Greg Growden Chief Rugby Correspondent
February 20, 2009
THE Brumbies yesterday discovered they have been blessed even more than the Waratahs, with their visiting New Zealand opponents decimated by injury on the eve of the second round.
When those opponents are the dominant Crusaders, the Brumbies have every right to feel relieved before tomorrow night's match at Canberra Stadium.
Fortune first favoured the Waratahs, with the withdrawal of the Chiefs' All Blacks fullback Mils Muliaina and dangerous No.8 Sione Lauaki from tonight's Sydney Football Stadium encounter.
While the loss of Muliaina and Lauaki are significant for the Chiefs, the Crusaders have been gutted. Concussed All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has withdrawn, as have fellow Test players Leon Macdonald (fullback, shoulder) and Brad Thorn (second-rower, heel).
McCaw, the world's premier openside breakaway, is near impossible to replace, and his absence could give his opposite, George Smith, a relatively free rein. Thorn and Macdonald are also heavy losses, and it was not surprising that shortly after their withdrawals were announced bookmakers slashed the odds for a Brumbies win.
Brumbies coach Andy Friend yesterday attempted to downplay his side's perceived advantage, saying the Crusaders "play a certain game style, it doesn't matter who's wearing jerseys 1 to 15, that game style will come through".
Nonetheless, the missing All Blacks have put a dampener on what was originally the Super 14 match of the round. With the Crusaders rarely so vulnerable, the Brumbies would rue not capitalising on it.
The Western Force haven't been so fortunate, with their Test fullback Cameron Shepherd yesterday ruled out because of soreness in his lower leg for tonight's match at Subiaco Oval. Drew Mitchell moves from the wing to fullback, while Haig Sare returns to the starting XV.
An Australian medical study has concluded that padded headgear does not reduce the rate of concussion or head injury for rugby players. The study concluded that although players may choose to wear the padded headgear, its routine use could not be recommended to reduce the chance of sustaining concussion while playing or training.
A report published in the journal, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, details how researchers monitored the on-field performance of more than 4000 players, aged between 12 and 20. One group wore no headgear, a second group wore a scrum cap permitted by the International Rugby Board, and a third wore modified headgear with thicker, denser padding.
The study found that there was no difference in the rate of head injury or concussion between the control group and those wearing standard headgear. Those wearing the non-standard, modified headgear claimed it was uncomfortable.
The study was led by Dr Andrew McIntosh, a biomechanics expert at the University of NSW School of Risk and Safety Sciences, working with colleagues at the University of Melbourne, the University of Ballarat, the University of Otago and Monash University.
The New Zealand Rugby Union will continue with plans to send a Maori team to South Africa this year to play the Springboks in Soweto, despite the racial composition of the side attracting criticism. The match is under threat because the South African Rugby Union's presidents council forbids its teams from playing racially selected opponents.
The NZRU's general manager of professional rugby, Neil Sorenson, is seeking clarification from the SARU.