Duncan Johnstone, www.rugbyheaven.co.nz
April 10, 2008 - 10:27AM
The Crusaders are resting Richie McCaw for their tangle with the bottom-placed Lions on Saturday with Reuben Thorne returning to captain the side from a new-look back row while Stephen Brett has been judged fit enough to gain a place on the bench.
Thorne has regained the No 6 position from Kieran Read for this assignment while the unheralded George Whitlock will make his Super 14 debut at openside as the red and blacks keep McCaw on ice for next week's juicy clash with the Chiefs in Hamilton.
McCaw isn't even needed on the bench for the match with the Lions.
But Brett makes a welcomed return, albeit as a reserve, as the Crusaders look to cover the key No 10 position where rookie Hamish Gard will start.
Brett isn't totally in the clear though and the Crusaders have suggested they will make a late call on him as he continues his recovery from a major shoulder injury in week five.
Durable lock Brad Thorn is in a similar position as he tries to shrug off a calf problem.
The Crusaders have Ross Filipo, battling back from neck surgery, on standby for a bench role. Filipo will play a club game in Wellington if Thorn is OK.
At the moment there are eight personnel and one positional change from the side that got past the Hurricanes 20-13 in Wellington before the Crusaders got last week off with the bye.
But they have decided to give McCaw even more rest after he was involved in all seven of their games over the first half of the championship when their unbeaten run took them to the top of the table where they still sit comfortably with a six-point buffer.
The Crusaders remain hampered by injuries to some key players.
"Obviously injuries have played a part in stretching our resources this week, with Leon MacDonald (thigh muscle) and Daniel Carter (ankle) not available, while we are leaving the final calls on Brad Thorn (calf) and Stephen Brett to the last minute," Deans said on the Crusaders' website in announcing his new-look side.
The Crusaders have also struck some uncharacteristic discipline trouble among a couple of their younger players.
Kade Poki and Kahn Fotuali'i, have been stood down from the playing 22, under internal team protocols, after missing a training session last week.
That sees Canterbury halfback Steve Alfeld called up from the wider training group to the bench to cover the absence of Fotuali'i.
As was signalled earlier in the week Gard has stepped into the breach at first five-eighths while wingers Sean Maitland and Caleb Ralph are the other personnel changes from the backline which started at Wellington. Scott Hamilton also moves from the wing to fullback.
The other changes among the forwards see lock Michael Paterson promoted from the bench. Hooker Ti'i Paulo and loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett take over in the front row from Corey Flynn and Ben Franks who move down to the bench.
Casey Laulala will play his 50th game for the Crusaders at centre.
"We're managing our resources, but it's fair to say that this week is providing us with a significant test, both on and off the field," Deans said.
He was forced to name a five-two split on the bench with Read covering the third backline position as there was no other back left fit for action.
The Crusaders clearly fancy their chances against a Lions side who have struggled all season and have made six changes themselves for this Christchurch match.
But they have Springbok Joe Van Niekerk back to bolster a powerful looking back row that could provide the red and blacks with a decent test especially with McCaw absent.
CRUSADERS: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Hamish Gard, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Reuben Thorne (c)**, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Michael Paterson, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Brad Thorn, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Steve Alfeld, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Kieran Read.
**Those who wanted the interview with Reuben Izzy refereed to in the chatterbox, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org (title "Reuben's itw"). Thanks.