Super Rugby Round 18 - Highlanders v Crusaders
Sam Whitelock bolsters Crusaders
June 27, 2013
Sam Whitelock is a massive presence in the Crusaders' pack © Getty Images
Senior All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock has put behind him the Tests against France, and he is mentally and physically ready to start for the Crusaders against the Highlanders in Super Rugby round 18 at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday.
Whitelock expected to miss at least the first two Tests against France after fracturing a finger against the Chiefs on May 24, but he was rushed back into the All Blacks team for the second Test after Brodie Retallick succumbed to injury. And Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder will be relieved to have him back on deck after the heavy workload carried by other Crusaders forwards - props Owen Franks and Wyatt Crockett, lock Luke Romano and captain Kieran Read. Franks will miss the match with an infected elbow, while the other three have been named on the bench. With Romano in the reserves and Dominic Bird injured, former Highlanders lock Tom Donnelly will make his third appearance for the Crusaders this season.
The Crusaders usually start an all-All Blacks front-row with Franks, Crockett and hooker Corey Flynn, but on this occasion they have two first-year Crusaders - props Nepo Laulala and Joe Moody - and relatively inexperienced hooker Ben Funnell in the run-on team.
The backline is more settled with fullback Israel Dagg and five-eighth Dan Carter back on duty. Robbie Fruean has again be named on the bench, with Tom Taylor playing second five-eighth and Ryan Crotty moving out a position.
The Crusaders are sixth on the Super Rugby ladder and cannot afford to drop any of their final three games if they are to have any chance of earning a home semi-final, but Whitelock said after the team's final training on Thursday that they were not thinking past Saturday's game. "If you look at the table you get into trouble," he said. "We've got to approach this game first and get the win then focus on the next week then the week after. The guys are really excited. We face three New Zealand sides and have to look at them all as finals."
Whitelock said the bottom-placed Highlanders had played well in patches without getting the results. "Obviously they are not in title contention but they are in a position where they can wreck other teams' seasons, and that's what they'll try and do to us if we let them."
Crusaders: Israel Dagg; Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford; Dan Carter, Andy Ellis; Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock (captain); Sam Whitelock, Tom Donnelly; Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody. Replacements: Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano, Kieran Read, Willi Heinz, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock.