Crusaders prepared for scrutiny in Hamilton
Graham Henry’s diatribe destroyed any hope the Crusaders had of slinking quietly into Waikato Stadium tonight.
Maybe if Henry had buttoned his hole the Crusaders could have laid low and forced the Chiefs, the Super Rugby champions, to undergo a forensic scrutiny by the match officials. There’s no chance of that now.
Not only have the Crusaders been forced to replace tighthead prop Owen Franks, who withdrew yesterday with a hamstring strain, with newcomer Nepo Laulala, they have been stung by the timing of Henry’s comments.
Henry’s verbal burst earlier this week, in which he gave both barrels to the Crusaders and missed with neither, has ensured referee Steve Walsh and his assistants will have their eyeballs crawling all over the visitors.
The Crusaders have done their best to shrug it off but many of the All Blacks, who served under Henry during his time in charge of the national side, must be miffed.
Still smarting from the Blues’ 23-3 loss to the Crusaders last weekend, the ex-All Blacks coach fired an array of shots but the most damning was about the legality of Wyatt Crockett’s scrummaging technique.
Not surprisingly Chiefs coach Dave Rennie used his outburst to his advantage by pointing the finger at Crockett, stating he uses his strength to disrupt the set pieces.
‘‘He angles in. He’s a strong lad and he does it well, disrupting the opposition’s scrums,’’ Rennie told North Island media.
Only after 7.35pm will we know whether Walsh has heeded World Cup winner Henry’s comments. The injury-depleted Chiefs, despite leading the competition, have been looked far from invincible but Crusaders captain Kieran Read isn’t convinced that means they have a tender undebelly ready to be exposed.
‘‘In some ways that makes them a lot tougher, they are playing as a team and guys are doing what has got to be done to win,’’ Read stated. ‘‘And you can’t argue with that. It is going to be a tough ask.’’
Laulala will be a mystery to many Crusaders supporters. This will be the rookie’s first appearance at Super Rugby level.
He will confront Pauliasi Manu in the set-piece and the Chiefs, having been disappointed at losing Ben Afeaki with injury, will not feel so intimidated against a depleted front row.
Although Laulala started seven matches for Canterbury last year he was not sighted after Paea Fa’anunu switched to the tighthead.
Crusaders coach Blackadder had the option of shifting Crockett to the unfamiliar No 3 spot, and he must have been tempted after the way he manned-up for 70 minutes against the Stormers in Cape Town on March 31, but has opted to keep him in his established position. Retaining Crockett at loosehead minimises the disruption.
Hooker Codie Taylor, called in after injuries to Corey Flynn and Ben Funnell against the Blues, will make his first start after two appearances as a substitute. Funnell has been named in the reserves ahead of Laurence Corlett after his sore knee passed scrutiny yesterday.
A clear sky is forecast for the game but the Crusaders, having selected Tom Taylor at second five-eighth, may favour his right boot to compliment Dan Carter’s powerful left-footed punt when hunting for field possession.
Win the territory war and use the mighty defensive lineout combination of Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano to disrupt the Chiefs’ jumpers. Then keep the ball close to the Read-led pack; that may prove vital to avenging last year’s semi-final defeat.