Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor is unlikely to be rushed back on to the park, despite confirmation fellow midfielder Jack Goodhue is done for the season with a serious knee injury.
However, head coach coach Scott Robertson, having made sweeping changes to his team to play the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday night, didn’t slam the door entirely shut on the possibility of an early return from the knee injury which has sidelined him since last September.
All Black Ennor ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) playing in the North v South match and has long been scheduled to return for the Trans-Tasman competition, which kicks off the week after the Super Rugby Aotearoa final on May 8.
He plays club rugby next weekend. So, he gets two weeks. That final, it would have to be a pretty special couple of weeks playing in club footy level to be available, Robertson said.
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Its still that game against the Brumbies, our first Trans-Tasman game [on May 15], which were pitching for him.
The Crusaders can book a spot in the May 8 final by beating the resurgent Chiefs, but will have to do it without a raft of first-choice players, including rested lock Sam Whitelock, as they mark halfback Mitch Drummonds 100th game for the franchise.
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Crusaders centre Braydon Ennor hurt his knee playing for South against North in Wellington last September.
No 8 Cullen Grace has also been rested, while hooker Codie Taylor will come off the bench after playing all 82 minutes of last weeks golden point thriller against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
It makes for a new-look loose forwards trio, with captain Scott Barrett shifting from lock to blindside flanker to partner Tom Sanders and No 8 Ethan Blackadder, who returns from a week off with a neck niggle.
George Bower will start at loosehead prop for the injured Joe Moody (foot), while there are first-up appearances this season for prop Isileli Tuungafasi, lock Luke Romano and wing Manasa Mataele via the bench.
Six day turnaround, our highest running metres, it was our biggest ball in play weve had, against the Hurricanes, and theres a whole group of players that have been sitting there, as you can see by the changes, ready to go, Robertson said.
After a horror weekend of injuries, Aaron Smith says Super Rugby Aotearoa is ‘brutal’ on the players, and he is looking forward to a more ‘balanced’ competition in 2022.
They’re keen. That’s the hardest part of this competition. You want continuity, you want cohesion, you play a team for a period of time and then all of a sudden you just need to make the changes when you get to week seven, week eight, of it. Give them a crack, they’re all keen.
That’s one thing, getting up for this match is going to be easy for the guys that havent had an opportunity.
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The Crusaders are resting Sam Whitelock ahead of their home game against the Blues Sunday week.
Whitelock has played all but 16 minutes of the season and has been given a chance to freshen up ahead of Sunday weeks home clash against the Blues.
The top-seed, which comes with the right to host the final, could be on the line in the match, before the Crusaders have a round 10 bye.
A week after Fainga’anuku notched 115 metres on 11 carries after replacing Goodhue, the Tasman blockbuster will start at centre, where the Crusaders had always planned on giving him a run this season, just not under these circumstances.
Power athlete. He’s a wing that can play centre, there’s a bit of Tana [Umaga] about him. We can see he’s got that skill set where he can swap in and out…he’s a power 13 for us, Robertson said.
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Crusaders wing Manasa Mataele has only played four games since the start
Mataele recently finished rehabbing the pectoral injury he suffered playing for Canterbury during last years NPC campaign, and has only played two Super Rugby games since he suffered a serious knee injury in round two of the 2019 season.
He’s rehabbed so hard. There was a massive cheer when the team was named and his name came up. It was pretty emotional for him. He’s been knocking on the door, we’ve got great outside backs, he’s a special part of the group off the field, he’s a bit of a spiritual leader for us.
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Leicester Faingaanuku, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mounga, Mitchell Drummond, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Sanders, Scott Barrett (c), Quinten Strange, Mitchell Dunshea, Michael Alaalatoa, Brodie McAlister, George Bower. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Isileli Tuungafasi, Oli Jager, Luke Romano, Sione Havili Talitui, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele.