Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fingers crossed George Whitelock will start

TONY SMITH 20/03/2012

George Whitelock seems as much a part of the Rugby Park landscape as the venerable wooden stand.
So it was a shock to see the ironman ex-All Black flanker – ever-present last season – riding the pine with strapping around his ankle while his team-mates trained yesterday afternoon.
The 25-year-old, who has captained Canterbury to three national championship titles, still hopes to suit up against the Cheetahs at the new Christchurch Stadium on Saturday night but admitted he was in "wait and see" mode.
"It's just a bit of an Achilles niggle I've had over the last couple of weeks; we'll just have to wait and see how it goes," Whitelock said.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder seemed confident Whitelock would be strapping on his boots again.
It would seem almost unfathomable to see someone else in the No 6 jersey. Whitelock's tenure stretches back 28 games – the round 11 loss to the Western Force in Perth was the last time he did not start a Super Rugby match.
But such a wily campaigner will only play if it does not compromise the team and, if he does, expect to see him bashing into the breakdown with real venom.
Whitelock pulls no punches. He candidly concedes the Crusaders forwards, collectively, were "a bit passive" in the first three rounds.
"We have just got to get low and create a bit of physicality and create some quality ball for our backs to attack with.
"At the breakdown, we've been stopping at the ball. We've been working hard on our cleanout over the last couple of weeks to improve that area of the game. It's a mindset thing, we've got to just turn up and do it."
Whitelock said the third round loss to the Chiefs was frustrating because the number of set pieces affected the flow of the game and he dismissed any notion that the Crusaders' All Blacks were suffering some sort of sub-conscious World Cup hangover.
"I don't think so, [winning the World Cup] was a long time ago for those guys. Everyone's mind is on the job, it's just a matter of all doing it together."
Whitelock agreed that playing in Christchurch for the first time since 2010 would be a great boost for the Crusaders – and the earthquake-ravaged city.
"It will be good, won't it? It's been a long time. I think we can put [the emotion] aside but it will be really good for the community of Christchurch.
"We haven't had much in the way of events here for the last couple of years. Hopefully, we can get a good crowd, maybe a sellout, and hopefully we can put on a performance that does the occasion justice."
Naka Drotske's Cheetahs will be aiming to spoil the Crusaders' house-warming party and Whitelock was impressed with the Bloemfontein boys' last ditch 33-26 win over the Rebels in Melbourne last Sunday after an after-the-buzzer try by replacement back Piet van Zyl.
"They're still playing with the attacking flair we saw from them last year," Whitelock said.
"To score with the last play of the game shows how dangerous they can be."
Whitelock rates the Cheetahs' back row, led by Springbok fetcher Heinrich Brussow, but said impact player Ashley Johnson was a massive threat.
"He changed the game for them when he came on. He got over the gain-line. He's a big man and we'll have to shut him to stop them going forward."
There may still be a Whitelock in the Crusaders' back row if oldest brother George cannot play.
Luke Whitelock – the fourth member of the Manawatu family to play for the Crusaders – could be promoted off the bench for his first start at No 8 with skipper Kieran Read shifting to his old role on the blindside flank.

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