Sanzar ruling places Crusaders on back foot
Sanzar's refusal to allow Super Rugby teams to add an extra prop to their reserves may have major implications for the Crusaders if Wyatt Crockett or Owen Franks suffer serious injuries.
With Ben Franks transferring to the Hurricanes, Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder has been forced to select raw Canterbury NPC players Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala as reinforcements for All Blacks Crockett and Owen Franks this season.
Last year the International Rugby Board, citing safety reasons, allowed international teams to select an extra frontrower on their benches during their end-of-year tour matches.
Rather than follow the IRB's lead, Sanzar surprisingly declared seven players would be allowed to be selected on Super Rugby benches. This means teams will be forced to select just one reserve prop. Moody and Laulala are untested in Super Rugby and their experience of playing both sides of the scrum is limited.
Suddenly a traditional area of strength for the Crusaders has been been exposed by the loss of All Black Franks, a player valued for his ability in the No 1 and 3 jerseys. Blackadder can either teach the newcomers how to play both sides or instruct specialist loosehead Crockett to again have a crack at tighthead.
It is a frustrating situation the ever philosophical Crockett, 30, didn't expect to encounter.
"It is the way it is - we have got to get used to it and work on a couple of us maybe covering both sides," said Crockett.
Last year Crockett began playing in the unfamiliar tighthead spot during the Crusaders' pre-season games but when the competition began he only played loosehead. He made a couple of brief appearances there for Canterbury later in the year but when the IRB announced an extra man could be included on the bench for the northern tour, he assumed Sanzar would follow suit.
"When we heard the rule was coming in it [Crockett learning to play tighthead] was put on the backburner," he said.
Yet Crockett is still confident he can be a competent tighthead.
"I think so. I feel a lot more comfortable after playing a couple of NPC games."
Crockett will start at loosehead against the Highlanders in Oamaru this afternoon, while Canterbury's Paea Fa'anunu, who is in the Crusaders' wider training group, will confront All Blacks loosehead maestro Tony Woodcock. Moody is in the reserves.
Blackadder rotated his combinations at a dizzying rate during last weekend's 27-26 loss to the Hurricanes in Timaru, starting Moody and Franks as his props.
With Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Kieran Read, Corey Flynn and Crockett all unavailable, the Crusaders scrum was often under heat.
"The scrums were rusty, there's no two ways about it," forwards coach Dave Hewett acknowledged. "We got some reasonable launch ball but it was certainly not a dominant performance."
Meanwhile, Canterbury's Colin Slade, who suffered a serious leg injury last March, will not play for the Highlanders today. He is weeks away from being declared fit.