McCaw on the bench, Romano fit for Crusaders
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw will be on the bench but test lock Luke Romano and midfielder Tom Taylor have been cleared to start for the Crusaders in Saturday's sudden-death Super Rugby playoff in Christchurch.
Romano, who has recovered from a high ankle sprain, is the only change to the starting team for the rumble with the Reds at AMI Stadium.
He will partner fellow All Black Sam Whitelock in a second row stand-off with Wallabies Jame Horwill and Rob Simmons. Former All Black Tom Donnelly, who deputised for the injured Romano against the Hurricanes last weekend, drops out of the match day squad.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is clearly confident of Romano's fitness because he has opted not to carry a locking specialist on the bench. The 1.90m reserve No 8 Luke Whitelock will cover that contingency.
Dispensing with Donnelly allows Blackadder to accommodate Luke Whitelock and McCaw as his backrow back-ups. McCaw played 80 minutes of club rugby for Christchurch last weekend in his first competitive outing since his six-month sabbatical.
Blackadder still has the option of using Whitelock in case of an early injury to a loose forward rather than pitch in McCaw, who despite his vast experience and mental toughness, will still be short of match fitness after last playing at professional level for the All Blacks last December. The 32-year-old has expressed confidence he could do a job for the Crusaders but admitted "the legs were a bit tired" in final quarter of his club comeback.
Taylor's rapid recovery from his head injury in the Hurricanes game has saved the Crusaders from a potential backline reshuffle.
The 24-year-old - monitored this week for concussion symptoms - will start at second five eighth, meaning All Black ace Dan Carter will remain in his preferred pivot position where he will oppose mercurial Queenslander Quade Cooper. Carter slotted in at second five with Tyler Bleyendaal in the No 10 slot after Taylor left the field last Friday following a collison with Hurricane rival Beauden Barrett.
But Blackadder and backline coaches Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger have added an extra insurance policy on the bench. Versatile Adam Whitelock, who can cover wing and midfield, replaces Telusa Veainu as the outside back division reinforcement.
The Crusaders will field the same line-up that crushed the Chiefs 43-15 on July 5 - their most emphatic performance of the Super Rugby season with Carter and experienced ex-All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis set for a salivating duel with Cooper and Will Genia, the world's top halfback.
Flanker Matt Todd, who has filled the No 7 jumper with distinction in McCaw's absence, will make his 50th appearance for the Crusaders against a Reds backrow featuring Wallabies phenom Liam Gill.
Meanwhile, Crusaders officials are expecting to put up a full-house sign at the stadium on Saturday night.
Tickets went on sale on Tuesday and Crusaders chief exective Hamish Riach reported more than 9500 had been sold by last night. Just under 8000 were still available and Riach said a sell-out was expected "with a good weather forecast predicted".
That was music to Blackadder's ears. "This season we remain unbeaten at home and this is largely due to the enthusiastic and boisterous red and black support we receive every time we play at [home]," the Crusaders coach said.
CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett: Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Adam Whitelock.