Captain Read left languishing by the Crusaders

INTERESTING CALL: The Crusaders aren't giving away any clues as to whether Kieran Read will start this weekend against the Blues.
INTERESTING CALL: The Crusaders aren't giving away any clues as to whether Kieran Read will start this weekend against the Blues.

Mark Hammett must have snorted with disbelief when he saw this Crusaders team.

Check this for a list of those missing from the Crusaders' starting side to meet the Hurricanes in the important match in Wellington's tomorrow night: Dan Carter, Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Israel Dagg, Richie McCaw and Nemani Nadolo.

Injuries have blown Dagg and McCaw out of contention, while juggernaut wing Nadolo has remained on test duty with Fiji.

So, in that regard, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder's hand has been forced.

But his decision to list All Blacks Carter, Read and Franks in the reserves, rather than order them to suit up for the opening whistle, could backfire if the Hurricanes bound out to an early lead and force the visitors to chase the game.

Not giving Read the No 8 jersey for such an important fixture is the most surprising selection.

In the past Blackadder has elected to start, rather than list on the bench, players returning from injury. As insurance he has listed a fully-fit player in the substitutes, knowing he can last the full game if the other bloke breaks down in the opening minutes.

Now Read, who in his comeback match from concussion played the first half of last weekend's test in Hamilton, could be forced to play for an extended period if loose forwards Luke Whitelock, Jordan Taufua or Matt Todd get injured early.

"We don't see it as a gamble," Blackadder said. "We believe that by doing it this way it will serve us well. The other three guys have been doing a good job all year and we have faith and trust in them."

That loyalty needs to be repaid because there is plenty at stake for the Crusaders.

If they grab a bonus-point win, and the Brumbies roll the Waratahs in Sydney, the seven-time Super Rugby champions will top the log with just two round-robin matches left.

Although Carter has only played 120 minutes for his Southbridge club this season, tapping into his X-factor from the first bell could potentially have given the Crusaders a handy leg-up before retiring him around the 60-minute mark.

Again Blackadder said he had no regrets about rushing him back into a run-on spot.

Retaining Colin Slade at first five-eighth is also Blackadder's way of thanking him for guiding the team to the top of the New Zealand Conference while Carter was on holiday.

"Sladie has really dragged this team through, along with his own body, to where a position we can now get on the front foot," Blackadder emphasised.

"It would have been doing a disservice to Sladie and also to Dan to put him in the starting lineup.

"Dan has only played a couple of games of club rugby and suddenly we are putting him in the hot seat.

"I just don't think it would send the right messages and it probably would have put him under a little bit of pressure."

Carter is guaranteed to take the field at some point. Blackadder has the option of using him at second-five which would allow him to leave Slade at first-five. Ryan Crotty could move out to centre or Carter, at a pinch, could move to fullback.

Starting Nepo Laulala ahead of All Blacks tighthead prop Owen Franks is a ploy to freshen up the latter after he started all three tests against England.

Laulala has proved a capable operator at this level but leaving an international out of the front row could give the Hurricanes, who beat the Crusaders 29-26 when they met in Christchurch on March 28, another psychological boost.

Crusaders: Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty (c), Nafi Tuitavake, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Jimmy Tupou, Kieran Read, Willi Heinz, Dan Carter, Rob Thompson.

Hurricanes: Matt Proctor, Cory Jane, Tim Bateman, Alapati Leiua, Julian Savea, Beauden Barrett, T J Perenara, Victor Vito, Ardie Savea, Brad Shields, Blade Thomson, Jeremy Thrush (c), Jeffery Toomaga Allen, Dane Coles, Ben Franks.Reserves: Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, Chris Eves, Reggie Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, James Broadhurst, Jack Lam, Chris Smylie, Hadleigh Parkes, James Marshall.

The Press