Crusaders forced to take chance vs Highlanders
Owen Franks in hospital, paintball warfare and All Blacks captain Kieran Read plonked on the bench. It seems loopy.
There is a crucial match against the Highlanders in Dunedin tomorrow night, yet the Crusaders - for reasons within and outside their own control - have swerved towards the unorthodox in their preparations and selections this week.
It all began on a sour note when tighthead prop Franks returned from All Blacks duties and had to be hospitalised because of an infected elbow.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said Franks felt crook following last weekend's third test against France in New Plymouth and it went downhill from there.
"He was hospitalised for two days with an infection," Blackadder said. "He came back on Sunday and felt really unwell and went to accident and emergency and they took him to hospital for two days."
Blackadder believed Franks got a nick in his arm during the second test in Christchurch on June 16. It subsequently became infected.
"He's sort of battling through with antibiotics but obviously after a big game like last week he was run down and nature took its course."
Not surprisingly Franks has been scratched from this crucial Super Rugby match: "We really haven't seen him (this week)," Blackadder added.
"It's just been about him getting over his infection and getting the recovery he needs. It's quite serious."
It is hoped Franks, who has been replaced by Nepo Laulala, will be fit for next weekend's match against the Chiefs.
At least the Crusaders had some control over who received a nasty shot during their paintball battles.
Rather than thrash their soldiers at training on Tuesday, eight had been involved with the All Blacks for three weeks, the Crusaders coaching staff invited them for some friendly warfare where, according to lock Luke Romano, Blackadder had his hide peppered.
Blackadder knows how crucial this week could be for his side's fortunes: if they lose this match their Super Rugby play-off hopes may be in serious jeopardy.
By giving his All Blacks a chance to rest their sore bodies and to blow off some stress following the 3-0 series win over France, he has taken a gamble with his selections.
Inspirational captain Read, the Crusaders' best player and most powerful ball-carrier, has been relegated to the reserves and replaced by Luke Whitelock. Older brother George assumes the captaincy.
Fellow All Blacks Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano have also been eased out of the starting side and replaced by Joe Moody and Tom Donnelly respectively.
This is all part of Blackadder's plan to rejuvenate his internationals after an intensive three weeks with the All Blacks.
It also places additional pressure on inexperienced players Luke Whitelock, Moody and Laulala.
"We almost want to unburden him (Read) a little bit," Blackadder said.
"And I think he had really appreciated that. I am sure he will come off the bench for some impact."
Given the workload Crockett and Romano powered through with the All Blacks, having started all three tests, Blackadder was reluctant to see them thrashed again.
Although Corey Flynn has recovered from his hamstring strain after being in doubt last week, Ben Funnell has been named to start at hooker.
Meanwhile, Blackadder hinted Richie McCaw is likely to make his comeback match for his Christchurch club or the Crusaders on July 12.
CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (c), Sam Whitelock, Tom Donnelly, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano, Kieran Read, Willi Heinz, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock.