By RICHARD KNOWLER
Saturday, 27 October 2007
While the All Blacks' controversial conditioning programme blighted the Crusaders' Super 14 chances title this season, it should pay dividends next year.
"There's no doubt about it, there were benefits. And for a big part of the Air New Zealand Cup we saw the result of that," Crusaders assistant coach Mark Hammett said."All of a sudden we have got these players who have got an extra year's experience."
With seven All Blacks sidelined because of the programme and injury earlier this year, the Crusaders were forced to pick a group of untested rookies.Among them were Michael Paterson, Kieran Read and Tim Bateman, who will again be named in the Crusaders squad when it is released on Wednesday.
Crusaders coaches Robbie Deans and Hammett are unlikely to dip deeply into the draft when they select their 28-man squad.They will submit a list of 24 protected players to the New Zealand Rugby Union tomorrow night before travelling to Wellington on Monday to thrash out their options and confirm their selections the next day.
While there are plenty of experienced tight forwards, Hammett acknowledged the lack of depth at openside flanker is a headache for not just the Crusaders, but the whole country. The Crusaders usually carry three specialist opensiders and if Richie McCaw starts to burn out, they will want two reliable back-up options.
"In New Zealand rugby it is a bit of worry with the likes of Marty Holah, Johnny Leo'o and Josh Blackie going overseas. There's not really a heck of a lot of opensiders around at the moment."Hammett hinted that Read, a blindside flanker, may be used on the opposite flank."We have seen the likes of him play a bit at No. 7 and he will be an option for us there."
Leo'o was used as McCaw's replacement for the first half of the Super 14 this year. Tasman's Jonathan Poff did not get a start.Poff, along with Canterbury's Hayden Hopgood, who was drafted to the Hurricanes this year, are options.Peter Nixon will not be considered because of a shoulder injury. If the Crusaders go to the draft the likes of Manawatu's Josh Bradnock could be considered.
A back-up No. 8 for Mose Tuiali'i may see Nasi Manu get his big chance. Draft options include Wellington's Thomas Waldrom or Hawkes Bay's Grant Webb.Otago No. 8 George Whitelock moved to Canterbury before the recent transfer deadline but is inexperienced.With All Black Ali Williams and Brisbane Bronco Brad Thorn wooed to Christchurch to offset the loss of Chris Jack, who is going overseas, Canterbury locks Kevin O'Neill and Isaac Ross are expected to be picked up by the Chiefs and the Blues.
Others who have signed for overseas clubs are halfback Kevin Senio (France), Aaron Mauger (England), Rico Gear (England), Rua Tipoki (Ireland) and Brent Ward (France).Before confirming their squads, the coaches liaise about which players could be suitable for selection. The Crusaders have a good relationship with Hurricanes' Colin Cooper who assisted Deans in 2002.
"We have to be upfront with each other, because it all comes in swings and roundabouts," Hammett said. "You want to be honest about a player. It is also the worst time of year for us, because it can be horrible to tell a player he has missed out."The Crusaders will probably opt for a split of 16 forwards and 12 backs, with the majority of the squad hailing from Canterbury.
OUTSIDE BACKS: Leon MacDonald, Scott Hamilton, Paul Williams, Sean Maitland.
CENTRES: Caleb Ralph (Tasman), Casey Laulala.
FIVE-EIGHTHS: Tim Bateman, Joel Iggo (Tasman), Stephen Brett, Dan Carter.
HALFBACKS: Andy Ellis, Kahn Fotuali'i (Tasman).
LOOSE FORWARDS: Mose Tuiali'i, Nasi Manu, Richie McCaw, Jonathan Poff (Tasman), Kieran Read, Reuben Thorne.
LOCKS: Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Michael Paterson, Ross Filipo (Wellington).
PROPS: Greg Somerville, Wyatt Crockett, Ben Franks, Campbell Johnstone.
HOOKERS: Corey Flynn, Ti'i Paulo.
Article photo : Steven Brett
Article : Calf no Hindrance (published in the Star on Wednesday 24th) & that's the bonus! The transcript will be published as soon as my computer problem is fixed ;)
Thank you to Nita for the stuff.co.nz link and thank you to Izzy for the Star scan ;)
-> Note : this article was first published on Oct. 27th but due to a spam abuse in the comments, I cancelled the previous post and decided to post it again -hopefully this incident won't happen again!