Crusaders' cavalry comeback for Chiefs
Kieran Read and Israel Dagg could return, but Dan Carter may not be risked against the Chiefs on Friday night.
In a week where they will be searching for cheerful angles after their shock 23-22 loss to the Hurricanes at Addington's AMI Stadium, the Crusaders are bracing for mixed reports on their three All Blacks who were injured in last month's Irish series.
While coach Todd Blackadder was cautiously optimistic No8 Read and fullback Dagg could start against the Super competition leaders in Hamilton, he was less hopeful about first five-eighth Carter.
"I don't think so ... he will be really touch and go for this weekend," Blackadder said yesterday.
Carter strained his hamstring training with the All Blacks in Hamilton on June 19 with Chiefs playmaker Aaron Cruden starting in his place for the 60-0 rout in the third test.
At the time All Blacks coach Steve Hansen confirmed Carter would be out for "two to three weeks". It now appears he will be rested until the final regular-season match against the Force in Christchurch on July 14.
The immediate futures of Read (concussion) and Dagg (ankle) are more optimistic.
Read suffered head knocks in the first and second tests before concussion symptoms prevented him starting the final match.
He sat in the Crusaders' coaching box as his team-mates bumbled their way to defeat against the Canes and later emphasised to Blackadder he was eager to start, if passed fit, against the Chiefs.
"It looks like `Reado' is going to be good. I think he is very keen to play," Blackadder stated. "He is a great leader and what he does is give us that forward carry, that forward momentum we really missed against the Hurricanes."
Having indicated the cloudy feeling that usually accompanies a concussion had disappeared Read is expected to undergo a psychometric test following exercise.
Dagg sprained an ankle in the third test and barring a setback should replace Sean Maitland. If Read starts he will force Richie McCaw to shunt Matt Todd out from openside flanker.
It was the absence of Carter and Read that stung the Crusaders during their error-ridden, and sometime tactically naive performance against a highly-committed Hurricanes side.
Having rattled the Wellington franchise with a 42-14 win in the capital on April 21 the Crusaders were undone by a mixture of the eager opposition defence and ferocity at the breakdown, while stalling their own momentum by not treasuring possession, conceding penalties or getting isolated.
Read, who was in imperious form before his head injury, was sorely missed.
His ability to cart the ball over the gainline this season has been instrumental in changing his side's fortunes, as has his enthusiastic defensive resolve.
Carter's replacement, Tom Taylor, and second five-eighth Ryan Crotty were often targeted by big forwards to reduce their decision-making time and a lack of field position meant the Crusaders were often back on their heels when they invariably turned ball over.
Taylor goalkicked capably, nailing six of his nine shots but will be required to search for field position more against the Chiefs.
"We have got to get some rhythm and flow back into our game because last night was just one disjointed affair," Blackadder admitted.
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