Whitelock, Todd in play for No8

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 09/07/2012
Matt Todd
IAIN MCGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
BACK OF THE PACK: Luke Whitelock or Matt Todd could start at No8 for the final regular-season match against the Force.

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Kieran Read's rib injury won't guarantee Richie McCaw a return to No8 against the Western Force.

A blow to the ribcage forced Read off Waikato Stadium during last Friday night's 28-21 win over the Chiefs. He is no chance to play the Force at AMI Stadium on Saturday night. Whether it will impact on his Super Rugby playoff chances should be clarified after a scan today.

"Fingers crossed it's just one week," coach Todd Blackadder said. "We will know more soon but, hopefully, it is not too serious."

Now the Crusaders coach is contemplating whether to deviate from the strategy of replacing Read with McCaw by starting Luke Whitelock or even Matt Todd at No8 for the final regular-season match against the Force.

When Read suffered a pelvis injury and concussion in the earlier rounds, Blackadder altered his back row by shifting captain McCaw to No8 and replacing him with specialist opensider Todd. George Whitelock remained on the blindside.

However, Blackadder may resist plucking McCaw out of his favoured position and if Luke Whitelock is selected at No8, it would mean he starts alongside siblings Adam, Sam and George at the Crusaders for the first time.

"I would really like to see Richie back at No7 and maybe we will mix things around a bit," Blackadder said. "Having Richie there [at No8] is definitely one option that has worked for us.

"The other is that I could try and put a specialist No8 in there like young Luke – or I change the configuration of the other loose forwards for just this one game."

Luke Whitelock, who was selected for the All Blacks training camps in May but not the official squad, has made regular appearances as a substitute this season but started just twice.

He was at No8 for the shock loss to the Rebels when Read was rested on the bench on May 12 and at blindside flanker against the Cheetahs (March 24) when oldest brother George was injured.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen also shifted McCaw to No8 last month when Read was ruled out of the third test against Ireland with concussion.

"Richie is a world-class No7. I just need to mull over whether Richie, Luke Whitelock or even Matt Todd could play at No8," Blackadder said.

"I need our best players out there but also need to make sure I do the right thing for everyone."

Starting the inexperienced Whitelock at No8 could be seen as a relatively safe bet against the second-to-bottom-placed Force. However, the move is not without its risks.

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Although the Perth team, which lost to the Blues 32-9 at Eden Park on Saturday night, will be without injured Wallabies openside flanker David Pocock, the Crusaders must win to guarantee themselves the top wildcard qualification position.

A defeat would be a disaster and probably end their title chances.

If Whitelock struggles, Blackadder has the option of ordering McCaw to No8 and unleashing Todd, the competition's top tackler, from the pine.

Dan Carter, who had not played since straining his hamstring at All Blacks training on June 19, emerged unscathed from the Chiefs match and will be fit to face the Force.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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