Chiefs look to extend run against Crusaders
February 12, 2009
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has surprised some by selecting rookie Colin Slade at No.10 against the Chiefs © Getty Images
Rookie Colin Slade has been preferred at fly-half ahead of the more experienced Stephen Brett in the Crusaders team to meet the Chief in the opening round of the Super 14 in Christchurch on Saturday.
Recurring shoulder and leg injuries limited Brett, who has chalked up 25 Super appearances over three years, to just five games in Canterbury's Air NZ Cup campaign last season. Slade, 21, stepped up to the mark, playing all 13 games and impressing with his ability to kick off both feet and with his acceleration through the half gaps.
However, it was expected that Brett, who has been tipped to become an All Black, would assume the role vacated by Dan Carter's ill-fated sabbatical to French club Perpignan. New Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder said after his team's final rehearsal today that Slade had impressed in the pre-season training and matches.
"He had a great NPC and Stevie's just coming back from injury. We thought that with his limited preparation for this game the better choice was Colin Slade. He seems to have grown stronger and stronger with every campaign," Blackadder said.
Slade said his hard work in the off-season had paid dividends, but he had not expected to be the starting fly-half. "I will take it though. I've been training pretty well and obviously Stevie has had his injuries and just joined us after Christmas. It's a very big moment for me and I've been looking forward to it ever since being named in the team."
Slade said his main focus would be on his own game rather than what his All Blacks opposite, Stephen Donald, was doing. "I'll go about my individual stuff and it will be a good experience to play against someone of his class. Whatever I can gain from that will be good."
Otherwise Blackadder has named a predictable starting 15 for the first-up assignment against a team which has beaten the Super 14 champions in their last two encounters. He said striking the Chiefs first up presented a "great challenge" but he stopped short of tagging the visitors as a jinx team for the Crusaders.
"Everyone is aware they've beaten us the last couple of times but I don't think they're a bogey team. They played really well and deserved their victories."
Having seen videos of the Chiefs' three pre-season wins over the other New Zealand franchises, Blackadder believed the Chiefs were "bigger, better and stronger" and he was impressed with the form of Brendon Leonard in the 38-24 win against the Hurricanes in Gisborne. It was the All Blacks halfback's first outing in almost eight months after a knee injury.
"It didn't look like he was coming back from injury -- he looked really sharp and it is good for them as he is a pivotal player. They're a good side and I'm fully aware that they lift for us. But I'm happy with where we are at. We've had a good pre-season campaign and the players all look to be mentally fresh and excited about the game."
The Chiefs are expecting an intense introduction to the new season according to coach Ian Foster. The opening round was always one of uncertainty, with all teams wondering what they would come up with at the start of the fresh campaign, Foster said.
"From the Chiefs' perspective, we've enjoyed our pre-season, are excited and ready to play," he said. "The Crusaders match will be an intense local derby, one that we are keen to get into."
The Chiefs won all three of their pre-season outings -- against the Blues, the Highlanders and the Hurricanes. Foster has included one Super rugby debutant in his starting 15 in Tongan-born prop Sona Taumololo, who impressed for Hawke's Bay in last year's Air NZ Cup.
Two others, hooker Hika Elliot and lock Craig Clarke, will making their first appearances for the Chiefs after moving from the Hurricanes. The rest of the run-on side comprises players with plenty of experience with the Hamilton-based franchise.
They include halfback Brendon Leonard, who is returning after an after an eight-month break recovering from a knee injury.
Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Jared Payne, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Kade Poki, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Brad Thorn, Ross Filipo, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), Thomas Waldrom
Replacements: Jason Macdonald, Bronson Murray, Isaac Ross, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali'i/Steve Alfeld, Stephen Brett, Adam Whitelock.
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (captain), Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Dwayne Sweeney, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Sona Taumalolo, Hika Elliot, Ben May, Craig Clarke, Kevin O'Neill, Liam Messam, Tanerau Latimer, Sione Lauaki.
Replacements: Aled de Malmanche, James McGougan, Toby Lynn, Colin Bourke, Toby Morland, Mike Delany, Callum Bruce.