Kieran Read could make rare outing for University club prior to Crusaders' comeback
Kieran Read is slowly getting into the grind on the training field with his Crusaders team-mates, and could make a rare appearance for his University club.
All Blacks skipper Read, who had an operation on a wrist over the summer, remains on target to return to Super Rugby action in mid-April and hone his match fitness ahead of the test series against the British and Irish Lions this winter.
Assistant coach Leon MacDonald confirmed Read, who must be impressed by the way new captain Sam Whitelock has kept his head in trying circumstances during their four-match winning streak, is starting to join the squad at practices and could play for his University club if he requires a game prior to making his comeback for the Crusaders.
"We are starting to see Kieran Read train with us a little bit now, so he is starting to make a comeback on to the field," MacDonald said.
"A little bit of non-contact, and then he will disappear and do his own fitness. And then he will graduate his way in towards that bye week, hopefully getting a little bit of rugby somewhere. Whether it is at training or on a club field, or something like that."
Read clearly isn't being rushed back, and given the way Whetu Douglas has performed at No 8 in his absence there is no need for anyone to demand the All Black clocks in early.
Although Douglas has been immense, there is no doubt Read, when he is ready, will get his job back. The indications are he will return after the Crusaders have their bye on April 7-9.
Tapping into Read's intellectual property has been a given, even if his role during games has been limited to running the water on to the park.
"Yes, he is a strong leader. He is very positive and obviously been around a long time," MacDonald added. "He has a lot of input off the field."
What team the Crusaders will field in their next match against the Force at AMI Stadium on Friday night will depend on their list of injured men.
MacDonald appeared optimistic openside flanker Matt Todd, who has missed the last two games because of a calf complaint, could be okay.
Centre Jack Goodhue, who was forced to withdraw from the match against the Blues last weekend because of a sore calf, didn't run around during a light training on Monday and appears highly unlikely to be considered.
MacDonald confirmed second five-eighth Ryan Crotty took a battering after putting in a big shift in the 33-24 win over the Blues, and will be monitored before the team is named on Wednesday.
Wing Digby Ioane, unavailable last week because of a hand injury, may be considered but is unlikely to needlessly be rushed back given the satisfactory job Manasa Mataele and George Bridge did last weekend.
Israel Dagg has his knee operation on Monday, and won't be available to play until another five weeks at least.
The raft of injuries has meant the Crusaders have been unable to field the same backline on consecutive weekends, something that could be viewed as a positive by the coaches who are at least getting the chance to spread the minutes around the playing group.
"Yes, I suppose it will be good," MacDonald said. "It puts us in good stead, we are having a lot of players having good game time and having success as well. It puts pressure on guys that had that starting spot and creates competition.
"It shows we can trust our players."
"There are a lot of benefits that come out of it. Sometimes you think it is a crisis, but they end up being a blessing in the long run."