All Blacks prospect dealt injury blow on eve of new Super Rugby season
A broken bone in his right hand means the 23-year-old will miss the Crusaders’ season-opening fixture against the Waratahs in Nelson on Saturday.
Strange sustained the injury during his side’s 41-7 pre-season thrashing of the Highlanders in Wanaka last week, and is expected to be sidelined for up to five weeks.
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The fractured hand is especially painful for promising youngster, who was expected to line up alongside captain Scott Barrett in the second row this weekend, given that he will miss out on the opportunity to play in front of his home crowd at Trafalgar Park.
“Really gutted for him, especially heading into this game at home. Nelson College, Collingwood lad. He was devastated,” Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman told media on Tuesday.
Strange’s frustration is understandable considering this week presented a rare opportunity for a starting role in the absence of All Blacks star Sam Whitelock, who is on sabbatical in Japan with Top League club Panasonic.
Whitelock, Barrett and Blues skipper Patrick Tuipulotu are all likely to return to the All Blacks this year, but with Brodie Retallick on two-season sabbatical in Japan with the Kobe Steelers, there will be at least one vacant spot in the national set-up that needs filling.
The departure of five-test former Highlanders utility forward Jackson Hemopo to the Mitsubishi Dynaboars seems to have paved the way for Strange, who is one of the highly-regarded young locks in the country, to challenge for a place in Ian Foster’s squad.
However, this injury has provided an unwelcome delay to what’s expected to be a coming-of-age season for the former New Zealand U20 representative.
Mitchell Dunshea, who started in last year’s final in place of the injured Barrett, and former All Black Luke Romano are now the frontrunners for a place in this week’s run-on side.
Rookie Cullen Grace will also be in contention, while ex-Highlanders lock Alex Ainley has been training with the squad, and featured in the team’s 40-19 pre-season win over the Hurricanes in Ashburton a fortnight ago.
Strange joins flanker Billy Harmon (knee) and Ethan Blackadder (shoulder) in the Crusaders’ injury ward, but Goodman confirmed that the remainder of the squad, including the side’s eight All Blacks, will all be available for selection against the Waratahs.
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