Courageous Crusaders injury toll climbs more
The Crusaders have paid a heavy price for yesterday's epic 19-14 victory over the Stormers in Cape Town, losing wing Johnny McNicholl and tighthead prop Owen Franks to injury.
McNicholl's Super Rugby season is finished after he fractured a fibula bone in his left leg and Franks will be unavailable for Saturday morning's match against the Sharks in Durban because of rib cartilage damage.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said McNicholl's injury meant he would be out for "four or five" months. Telusa Veainu will join the squad as cover.
It is hoped fullback Israel Dagg, who has missed the last two matches because of a hamstring strain, will be fit to play the Sharks.
But first five-eighth Dan Carter, who became a father for the first time last week, will not join the squad in South Africa and should link up for their final tour match against the Western Force in Perth.
Another playmaker, Tom Taylor, missed the Stormers' game because of a knee injury but there is good chance he will be available to back up Tyler Bleyendaal in Durban.
The loss of Franks means Blackadder will have to consider whether to start specialist tighthead Nepo Laulala against the Sharks or start Wyatt Crockett after he performed so well when he shifted from loosehead to replace his injured fellow front rower.
"His contribution was just immense," Blackadder said in reference to Crockett.
"Only if you have ever been there could you truly understand what an effort that was. Our set piece never went backward - he did a great job."
Although openside flanker Matt Todd scored their only try, with first-five Bleyendaal topping up their account by kicking five of six shots at goal, this was the Crusaders' finest performance of the season.
Outstanding defence, due to the trust in their systems and a burning desire to scramble their way out of strife, enabled them to parry away the Stormers' attacks in the final 10 minutes.
"We respect the Stormers and I think everyone had written the Crusaders off - apart from ourselves," Blackadder said.
"The internal motivation was to go out there and put a great performance on the track and I felt we did that."
George Whitelock proved an able commander in the absence of injured Kieran Read; he kept his mob calm when they trailed 11-0 in the first half and, more importantly, ensured his actions set the standard by being a figure of perpetual motion in the tackle and carrying the ball.
Brother Sam repeatedly raided the Stormers' lineout throws and the disintegration of this vital source of possession did little for the home side's confidence.
The Crusaders' self-belief swelled as they realised they were a real chance of causing a boilover and that was evident in the way halfback Willi Heinz thrived behind his belligerent pack.
Bleyendaal proved there is no need to go rushing Tom Taylor who wasn't considered for this match because of his knee injury.
Blackadder was positive the rugged encounter and the six-day turnaround won't detract from their effort against the Sharks.
"I don't think we will be out of gas at all," Blackadder said. "I think against the Sharks we can open up a bit more. We can play a higher, faster up-tempo game. There's plenty in the tank."