Crotty to captain Crusaders in Read's absence
Kieran Read has been forced out at a time when the Crusaders needed their inspirational skipper more than ever.
Concussion has ruled firecracker No 8 Read out of Sunday morning's (NZT) crucial Super Rugby match against the Lions, resulting in coach Todd Blackadder selecting George Whitelock at blindside flanker and younger brother Luke at No 8.
A head knock meant Read left the field during last Friday's 29-26 defeat to the Hurricanes and he has continued to be bothered by concussion symptoms since the team's arrival in South Africa.
''There is no need to risk a guy,'' assistant coach Aaron Mauger said.
''His personal health is more important than anything we are trying to achieve for the team.''
Health definitely comes first and we are lucky we have a good doctor [Deb Robinson] and she has dealt with these things many times before.''
Ryan Crotty, who replaces Tom Taylor at second five-eighth, has been promoted to captain.
Lions coach Johan Ackermann surely can't believe his luck.The Crusaders have not only been stripped of their three best players in Richie McCaw (broken thumb), Dan Carter (sabbatical) and Read; their record of two wins from five matches also suggests their confidence has taken a pounding ahead of this encounter at Johannesburg's Ellis Park.
The Lions side have proved a force since their re-entry into the competition, winning four of their six matches and have a perfect home record.
Blackadder's midfield revamp means Kieron Fonotia gets his first run-on start at centre, while the powerful Nemani Nadolo replaces Nafi Tuitavake on the right wing.
With Luke Romano unable to travel because of a calf strain, Dominic Bird starts at lock alongside Sam Whitelock.
The selection of the 125kg Nadolo adds some much-needed punch to the outside backs and he has the potential to unleash precious offloads in the tackle.
Losing McCaw, Read and Carter, who have played 285 tests between them, lifts the core out of the side's leadership group but Mauger maintained George Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Sam Whitelock, Wyatt Crockett and Crotty have always been expected to share those duties.
''These guys have leadership roles out on the field anyway.''
Three New Zealand teams, the Chiefs, Blues and Hurricanes, have played in South Africa this year and the results have been grim.The Chiefs, who meet the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Sunday, produced the best result when they drew 34-all with the Bulls in Pretoria last weekend.
The Lions have lost lock Franco van der Merwe with a serious ankle injury but have the benefit of using the bye to prepare themselves for the Crusaders match. Fullback Coenie van Wyk is also in doubt.Adapting to referee Marius van der Westhuizen's rulings is going to be crucial.
The Lions possess the competition's most accurate goal kicker in Marnitz Boshoff who has succeeded with 94 per cent of his attempts this season. Any penalties conceded in his zone will prove costly.
''It's important not to get too panicky, it's just another game really,'' Mauger said.
''There's probably a bit more pressure on us to get a result but we just have to concentrate on what we can control and give it everything.''
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Nemani Nadolo, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty (c), Johnny McNicholl, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Taylor.