Hurt Read to miss semi-final as McCaw excels
Time will conspire against Kieran Read recovering from his damaged ribs to play in the Super semifinal.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is resigned to being without Read for this Friday night's match against the Chiefs, although any disappointment continues to be tempered by Richie McCaw's eye-popping displays at No 8.
While there's no point putting a positive spin on Read's absence because of small stress fractures in a rib, the rejigged back row's display in Saturday night's 28-13 defeat of Bulls should dispel any lingering doubts about their productivity.
McCaw's impact in the less familiar position, where his ball carrying has been notably strong, continues to increase his boss's confidence in the loose forward unit and McCaw will again start alongside flankers Matt Todd and George Whitelock.
Rather than stress whether Read, who has not trained since copping a blow to his ribs in the 28-21 win over against the Chiefs on July 6, will be fit Blackadder is set to scratch him.
"I don't think he will train . . . I think with the game being on Friday it is probably too short a turnaround for him," Blackadder said yesterday. "He is probably a week away. I would doubt he will be ready.
"And I thought the challenge of playing No 8 has been really good for Richie. He was huge against the Bulls and looks to be like he is really enjoying his rugby this year."
Despite the break the Chiefs, who had a bye at the weekend courtesy of their second placing on the log, retained a rigorous training schedule. To combat Blackadder's loose forwards coach Dave Rennie must decide whether to start All Black Sam Cane ahead of Tanerau Latimer at openside flanker.
Liam Messam is expected to be named at blindside and Kane Thompson, who missed the last Crusaders game with injury, should return to No 8.
Read, until forced off with his ribs complaint in the second half of their earlier clash, assisted in the Crusaders' physically dominating the gain line that night and his lineout ability proved valuable when the Chiefs' set piece failed miserably.
With lineout caller Craig Clarke withdrawing due to illness the Chiefs had a nightmare and were also subjected to an intense interrogation in the scrums.
The Crusaders, who survived the Bulls' powerful defensive lineout and pressured several errors on their own throws at AMI Stadium, will this week plot how to again earn such high dividends but Clarke's return is likely to ensure the previous embarrassments are not repeated en masse.
Blackadder is optimistic his forwards can force a repeat scenario but was not blinded by the result; scrum ball was poorly delivered on occasion, some decisions around halfway were muddled and had Sonny Bill Williams elected to pass to Aaron Cruden in injury time the home side could have salvaged a draw.
"We didn't get everything right that night, we learned a lot from that game," Blackadder said. "At times we were in control but they managed to break our rhythm and timing to get themselves back in the game."
While the Crusaders have won their last four games, the Chiefs, who are still searching for their first title, entered their break after defeats to the Hurricanes and Crusaders.
There is now a sense the Crusaders, who were so dominant against the underwhelming Bulls, can make their desire for an eighth title a reality.