Kieran Read ready to return for the Crusaders
Pumping more fury into the Crusaders' backline must surely be a priority this week.
Considering lock Sam Whitelock made the only memorable line break during last weekend's 18-10 loss to the Chiefs, when he scored his side's only try, the Crusaders backs need to somehow add some lightning to their strike plays against the Blues at Eden Park on Friday night.
That the Blues, who were stung 29-21 by the Highlanders last weekend, will be without second five-eighth Ma'a Nonu (not yet fully fit after ankle surgery) and Francis Saili out (out for a month with a foot injury) is some consolation but the Crusaders also have issues of their own with flanker Richie McCaw and midfielder Ryan Crotty in doubt because of calf injuries.
McCaw and Crotty, who had his lower right leg wrapped in a bandage, didn't participate in the team warm-ups yesterday and assistant coach Tabai Matson indicated there was no certainty they would be fit to play the Blues.
"There are clouds over a few people who are in contention - Richie is straining a little bit, he has got a little bruise there and Ryan Crotty is not doing a full training today," Matson said.
"We got dinged up, as they [the Chiefs] did, so we are just taking a few days to recover."
No 8 Kieran Read, who was rested from the Chiefs match, will take over the captaincy from McCaw regardless.
First-five Colin Slade, who missed the Super Rugby opener because of a calf issue, ran freely at training to further alleviate concerns and he appears the leading candidate if they replace Tyler Bleyendaal who missed five penalties against the Chiefs.
If McCaw is ruled out, Matt Todd would slot into the No 7 jersey.
Losing vice-captain Crotty, one of the backline's best performers against the Chiefs, would also be major a blow. If he was unavailable it is likely Tom Taylor would run at second-five alongside centre Reynold Lee-Lo.
Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo remains unavailable because of a medial ligament injury and is unlikely to be available until next week.
Matson said a specialist goal-kicking coach would not be recruited after Bleyendaal and Taylor missed seven penalties between them against the Chiefs.
Despite the Crusaders backs unable to crack the Chiefs' defensive line, Matson also denied hosed down queries about whether their lack of line busts was a concern.
"Not really. When you play the best teams, especially the really good defensive teams, you might get two opportunities," he said. "Probably we took one of them but if we had taken another one we wouldn't be feeling the way we are feeling."
Better execution, he added, would allow his side to build more pressure.
Read hasn't played since the All Blacks' dramatic victory against Ireland in Dublin on November 25.
However, he has been involved in contact training sessions since returning the Crusaders several weeks ago and was emphatic he would have no problems lasting the full 80 minutes in Auckland.
"I'm all set to go, looking forward to it. I'm confident I can go 80. I'm ready to go."