By RICHARD KNOWLER, The Press
Monday, 16 February 2009
Monday, 16 February 2009
The Crusaders' victory over the Chiefs has come at a cost, with Leon MacDonald in danger of missing next weekend's match against the Brumbies.
The veteran fullback, who has played 117 Super matches, injured the AC joint in his shoulder during the 19-13 win at AMI Stadium on Saturday night and coach Todd Blackadder is not confident he will front for the second-round Super 14 match against the Brumbies in Canberra.
"We'll assess it on Monday but at the moment it's probably not looking that great," Blackadder said.
With fellow All Black Dan Carter in France, MacDonald's experience has been highly prized by the Crusaders who look for him to provide guidance in a backline that includes newcomers Colin Slade and Jared Payne.
If MacDonald is ruled out, Blackadder has the option of starting Stephen Brett at fullback or moving Payne from the right wing.
Brett played the final seven minutes at fullback on Saturday night and Blackadder will be tempted to start him there and leave Payne on the wing. With Sean Maitland still nursing a hamstring injury and unlikely to be fit in time, the Crusaders are running short of outside backs. Brett, who prefers playing first five-eighth but has been dislodged from that position by Slade, looks the logical choice to start at No15.
Brad Thorn is another to be troubled by injury; the lock was replaced in the 57th minute by Isaac Ross because of a foot problem.
"He said at halftime he had a bit of a sore heel and we just assessed it to see how it felt and he said it was not improving and we subbed him because of that," Blackadder added.
If Thorn is forced out, it must be serious enough to cause him serious discomfort. Rarely during his decorated career in rugby or rugby league has he been cut down by injury and it is a record Thorn, a fitness fanatic, has been proud of.
The Brumbies will be lying in wait for the Crusaders after beating the Highlanders 33-31 in Dunedin on Friday night and having fought back from a 19-point deficit. The charge was led by hulking Wallaby midfielder Stirling Mortlock and they will be buoyant at the thought of facing a team missing Carter, MacDonald and Thorn.
Although he hinted it would be unreasonable for a team not to make errors so early in the season, Blackadder will be desperate for his men to chop back the number of handling errors they made against the Chiefs.
Forty-three is a whopping amount in anyone's book. The Crusaders could have paid the price and lost if the Chiefs had not also suffered a case of the dropsies at crucial times.
Even if MacDonald beats the odds and that seems unlikely Slade is expected to retain his position ahead of Brett.
Slade, 21, set up centre Casey Laulala's first try with a deft grubber behind the advancing Chiefs' backs in the first half. Although some of his clearances were wobbly and he slotted only two of his five shots at goal, he rarely looked rattled. Inside his intestines must have been churning, but he was not afraid to carry the ball towards the line and there were no leaks down his defensive channel.
"For all the pressure he was under and in his first start against such a physical team he came through with a real pass mark," Blackadder said.