Out-of-form Fruean battling to make lineup

BREATHING HARD: Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean pauses to catch his breath during a training session yesterday at Rugby Park.
BREATHING HARD: Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean pauses to catch his breath during a training session yesterday at Rugby Park.

Waratahs supporters will be most perplexed if Robbie Fruean is dumped for Friday night's Super Rugby match in Christchurch.

Last year Fruean had the Sydney "rah-rah" crowd roaring with rage when he repeatedly carved up the Waratahs during the Crusaders' 37-33 win at the Sydney Football Stadium.

It was the sort of performance that encapsulated everything that is good about the big centre.

Sporting the sort of mohawk usually sighted at head-banging concerts and thriving on the hard Sydney track, Fruean exploded into top form with a man-of-the-match performance that earned him two tries.

Now, 13 months later, he has been forced to fight for his starting spot after being ditched for last weekend's match against the Chiefs.

Although the Crusaders lost 28-19 in Hamilton, the midfield combination of Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty was dependable.

Taylor's presence also enabled them to utilise his right-footed punt outside the left-footed Dan Carter as well as being as their goal kicker.

There is no guarantee Fruean, who last year played all 30 matches for the Crusaders and Canterbury and was named NPC player of the year, will be recalled for Friday night's game.

Given the stakes, and an expectation the dewy conditions will demand the Crusaders kick more often, Fruean may find his aggressive running game is not enough to win back his No 13 jersey.

Crusaders assistant backs coach Aaron Mauger hopes Fruean's relegation can do what it did for All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg - galvanise him into producing better displays.

He said Fruean was not "providing the spark he normally does".

"We got a good response out of ‘Izzy' and hopefully with Robbie we will get the same."

At a time when the Crusaders need their star players to shine brightest, Fruean has undoubtedly lost his glow.

He, more than anyone, appears frustrated with his inability to recapture his top form.

Loose or dropped passes have been greeted with frustrated hand-slaps on the turf or rolled eyes to the skies.

"He understands there are parts of his game he needs to get better," Mauger said. "It is the same with Israel four or five weeks ago; he wasn't giving us what we needed, and went away and worked hard.

"There is an opportunity for Robbie to go and fix those things he hasn't quite nailed, and once he does that he will put himself back in the mix."

Despite the loss to the Chiefs, who produced a tenacious defensive effort in the second spell, the Crusaders coaching staff have indicated changes to their starting side are likely to be minimal.

Injured lock Sam Whitelock will be replaced by Dominic Bird, and hooker Corey Flynn and tighthead prop Owen Franks may return from hamstring complaints to add some iron to the tight five.

While Fruean, 24, is not nursing any injuries apart from the usual minor niggles players collect during the season, the issue with his heart - he had open-heart surgery in 2007 - can affect his work rate.

"It's a tough one for Robbie. He is actually an inspiration for all of us," Mauger said.

"We really respect the fact he is out there doing what he is doing with those potential limitations.

"We are really mindful of that as well and making sure we are realistic in our expectations of him." 

The Press