Crusaders roll out big guns for clash with Blues
He has spent all week plucking darts out of his hide, yet Todd Blackadder has no regrets about managing Kieran Read through one of the most difficult periods of his career.
Unlike last week, when he controversially elected to ease Read back into Super Rugby off the substitutes bench, Blackadder has enlisted the ace No 8 to lead the Crusaders into action against the Blues at AMI Stadium tomorrow night.
Crusaders coach Blackadder has made seven positional changes to the side that started in the 16-9 defeat to the Hurricanes - four in the backline -and by adding first five-eighth Dan Carter, fullback Israel Dagg, tighthead prop Owen Franks and No 8 Read he has added 258 tests worth of experience.
Of those selections, none topped the importance of Read getting his battle gear on and leading his troops over the wire in what will be the first time he has made three consecutive appearances since suffering his first concussion against the Hurricanes on March 28.
"In terms of the head it's about getting a couple of games under the belt and what the team's really wanting me to do," Read said yesterday.
"I feel real good out of that. The head's good and the body's feeling pretty good."
The decision to bench Read against the Hurricanes, after he had played the opening 40 minutes for the All Blacks in the third test against England, raised eyebrows but Blackadder indicated that by easing Read back he could slowly build his confidence.
"Reflecting back on that decision- it was the right decision," Blackadder said. "He's been unbelievable this week. He's brimming with confidence, he's been taking live contact all week, has had a few check ups and is absolutely ready to go."
Unlike last week, there is a menacing look to this team.
Apart from the left-field selection of Kieron Fonotia on the right wing, following the axing of Nafi Tuitavake and Johnny McNicholl for their lacklustre displays in Wellington, and the exclusion of Richie McCaw because of his fractured rib, it is difficult to dispute these selections.
Last week the Crusaders backline bordered on being awful and one of the most frustrating sights was the image of Tom Taylor, a rising star good enough to make his All Blacks debut last year, struggling with his confidence.
Taylor hasn't survived the selection scalpel but first five-eighth Colin Slade has.
Blackadder has again pitched his weight behind Slade, stating he deserves to get a run ahead of Carter in the No 10 jersey despite his poor kicking game resulting in the ball being surrendered so easily against the Hurricanes.
"By putting him in the midfield it will give us a lot of experience," Blackadder said in reference to his decision to start Carter at second-five.
"I know that Sladie was disappointed in his game last week and has shown all year that he is better than that."
The return of Carter at second-five should be multi-dimensional in its benefits. At around 95kg he has the bulk to add sting to his defensive hits, his powerful left boot can shove opponents back long distances and his wealth of knowledge will give those around him confidence -as will the fit-again Dagg.
The same could be said for 125kg wing Nemani Nadolo who comes back after playing four tests for Fiji. His return offers the go-forward that was missing against the Hurricanes.
AT A GLANCE
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.
Blues: Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Pita Ahki, Ma'a Nonu, Charles Piutau, Ihaia West, Bryn Hall, Jerome Kaino, Luke Braid (c), Steven Luatua, Tom Donnelly, Patrick Tuipulotu, Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu, Tony Woodcock. Reserves: James Parsons, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Sam Prattley, Hayden Triggs, Peter Saili, Jamison Gibson-Park, Francis Saili, George Moala.