Blues coach Pat Lam has pulled a clever little trick which he hopes will give his team an advantage against the Sharks this weekend. He sent flyhalf Jimmy Gopperth and openside flank Onosa’i Auva’a home early from their South African tour in the hope that these two players, at least, would be fresh to face the Durbanites.
Injuries have forced Lam’s hand to an extent as well, with lock Antony Boric out with a fracture. Fortunately, big Ali Williams and his “little” brother Jay are both fit this week; the former will slot straight in at lock, while the latter will provide second row cover off the bench. The tight five is otherwise unchanged, although the loose trio has been revamped completely. Out goes Justin Collins, suffering from some serious fatigue after three tough outing in a row. Josh Blackie makes way for Auva’a in the starting XV, while Chris Lowery comes straight in at number 8. Jerome Kaino will shift to the blindside this week.
Gopperth in for Tasesa Lavea is the only change amongst the backs. Lavea is injured anyway, so would not have been able to play in this match. Michael Hobbs, son of All Black legend Jock, will provide flyhalf cover off the bench.
BLUES: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Paul Williams, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Jamie Helleur, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Taniela Moa, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Onosa’i Auva’a, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Kurtis Haiu, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock. Reserves: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Charlie Faumuina, 18 Jay Williams, 19 Josh Blackie, 20 Chris Smylie, 21 Michael Hobbs, 22 Winston Stanley.
The Crusaders’ season just seems to be going from bad to worse. Reeling after back-to-back losses, they’ve lost two more key players to injury, with a further two doubtful. Winger Kade Poki and ace playmaker Casey Laulala are both out this week, replaced by rookies Blair Cook and Adam Whitelock respectively. Halfback Andy Ellis and tighthead Ben Franks have both been bracketed in the starting lineup, due to varying niggles.
Hooker Corey Flynn has already been ruled out for the season with a broken arm and there’s still no sign of veteran fullback Leon MacDonald, who hurt his shoulder in the second-round loss to the Brumbies. Brad Thorn, though, has been cleared to play following an injury scare. MacDonald’s ongoing absence means that promising flyhalf Stephen Brett will again be played out of position at fullback, with another youngster, Colin Slade, continuing at pivot. Uncharacteristic goal-kicking woes continue to plague both players, to add insult to (seemingly never-ending) injury.
It’s a pretty shocking stat that, of the starting XV that played in the victorious 2008 final effort for the Crusaders, only five players remain today.
Crusaders: 15 Stephen Brett, 14 Jared Payne, 13 Adam Whitelock, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Blair Cook, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis/Kahn Fotualib’i, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ross Filipo, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ben Franks/Bronson Murray, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: 16 Dan Perrin, 17 Bronson Murray/Owen Franks, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i/Tyson Keats, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Hamish Gard.Tweet