Crusaders may need backup in South Africa

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 25/03/2013
Zac Guildford
Getty Images
ZAC ATTACK: Zac Guildford in action for the Crusaders against the Kings.

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Willie Ripia may be only a training mishap away from joining the Crusaders in Cape Town.

With Dan Carter on paternity duty and Tom Taylor rehabilitating a knee problem the Crusaders are in the tricky position of having just one fit specialist playmaker - Tyler Bleyendaal - available for their match against the Stormers.

This has left Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to walk a tightrope ahead of the Sunday morning fixture at Newlands.

Before the Crusaders flew out for South Africa yesterday morning Blackadder acknowledged Ripia - sacked last year from the Western Force after stealing from team-mates to fuel his gambling addiction - may have joined the squad if the likes of Bleyendaal had been hurt in Saturday night's 55-20 win over the Southern Kings.

"We haven't been in contact with him [Ripia] - we are just looking at our options," Blackadder said. "If we had an injury tonight we probably would have looked at it but we should be okay."

But if Bleyendaal suffers an injury or falls ill in Cape Town, Blackadder, who confirmed Taylor is not expected to be fit until the match against the Sharks on April 6, may be forced to decide whether Ripia should be flown to South Africa.

Andy Ellis and Ryan Crotty are the other options to start in the unfamiliar No 10 spot but it is still likely the Crusaders would want to fly another player across as bench cover. Ellis has not played first-five since his teens but he is the preferred option because shifting him to first-five would cause minimal disruption to the backline.

The decision to consider the experienced Ripia, 27, is not as radical as it sounds.

He is not contracted to any franchise and is believed to be in good shape after playing in Japan.

Following his dismissal by the Force, the former Hurricanes first-five sought counselling for his gambling problems and later publicly apologised in the media for the "embarrassment" and "shame" he caused his family.

The Crusaders also asked Stephen Brett, who played for the franchise between 2006 and 2009 and had recently finished playing in Japan, if he would be on standby. But he declined because he has a foot injury and has since left for France.

Given the way the Stormers performed in their 35-22 trouncing of the Brumbies yesterday morning Blackadder will urge Bleyendaal to not take any unnecessary risks at training.

Blackadder will also monitor the injuries suffered by captain and No 8 Kieran Read and tighthead prop Owen Franks. The in-form Read suffered a toe injury against the Kings and Franks has a tender Achilles tendon.

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In addition to loosehead specialist Wyatt Crockett, rookies Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala will join the All Blacks props for the three-match tour of Cape Town, Durban and Perth.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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