Blackadder shakes up team with shock moves
Todd Blackadder no longer gives a hoot about egos or reputations.
Having ignored four All Blacks for tomorrow night's Super Rugby opener against the Chiefs in Christchurch, Crusaders coach Blackadder has marked his sixth season in charge of the side in spectacular, and controversial, fashion.
If anyone thought his sermons about rewarding in-form players were just babble, their doubts evaporated when Blackadder announced his side; he has dumped All Blacks wing Zac Guildford in favour of relative no-names Nafi Tuitavake and Rob Thompson and relegated loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett and utility back Tom Taylor to the bench.
Lock Luke Romano has also lost his spot to less experienced All Blacks team-mate Dominic Bird.
Despite Blackadder's warnings he wasn't going to pick men on their past deeds, such a ruthless mindset around the selection table wasn't expected ahead of a match when captain and No 8 Kieran Read was being rested as part of a "reintegration plan".
It's the sharp decline of Guildford, who is set to join wealthy French club Clermont following his Crusaders obligations, that is the most surprising.
Blackadder said Guildford had been cut because he wasn't playing as well as Tuitavake and Thompson, who are wider training group players and not being paid the bigger money offered to official squad members. They have been listed on the left wing and in the reserves bench respectively.
Issues involving alcohol have dogged Guildford for much of his career, but Blackadder said this decision was about his performances in the rugby arena.
"It's simply on on-field form. It really, simply comes down to that. Zac's been given some opportunities."
Johnny McNicholl, who scored a hat-trick in last weekend's win over the Hurricanes in Levin, starts on the right wing.
Crockett's omission is also a major surprise.
Loosehead prop Crockett, a 24-test All Black with more than a century of Crusaders caps, was expected to be an automatic selection until it was revealed Tim Perry, who made seven appearances for the Blues in his debut Super Rugby season last year, had grabbed the No 1 jersey.
Asked if he was taking a gamble by overlooking so many internationals, Blackadder reiterated he was simply rewarding his form players.
"We just couldn't deny him [Perry] that opportunity. It's not like we are throwing caution to the wind here, we just feel Tim is ready to go. And no doubt we will see an angry Wyatt Crockett come out at some stage."
With Colin Slade not considered because of a calf strain, Tyler Bleyendaal has been preferred at first five-eighth ahead of All Blacks utility Tom Taylor.
Taylor made an impressive test debut at first five-eighth against the Wallabies last year but has operated at second-five in the Crusaders' pre-season games. By selecting Bleyendaal, Blackadder has preferred to stick with a specialist No 10.
Richie McCaw, who starts at openside flanker, leads the side in the absence of Read.
Meanwhile, Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has named former Crusader Robbie Fruean at centre. Another ex-Crusader, utility back Tom Marshall, is unavailable because of a thumb injury.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Rey Lee-Lo, Ryan Crotty, Nafi Tuitavake, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw (c), George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Tim Perry. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Matt Todd, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Rob Thompson.
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina, Tim Nanai-Williams, Robbie Fruean, Charlie Ngatai, Asaeli Tikoirotuma, Aaron Cruden, Augustine Pulu, Kane Thompson, Tevita Koloamatangi, Liam Messam, Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald, Ben Tameifuna, Rhys Marshall, Jamie Mackintosh. Reserves: Nathan Harris, Pauliasi Manu, Ben Afeaki, Matt Symons/Liam Squire, Nick Crosswell, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Andrew Horrell/Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe.