The Crusaders are waiting on the return of scan results before they know the full extent of the injury that forced All Blacks star Will Jordan out of Friday’s Super Rugby Aotearoa clash against the Highlanders.
Jordan was named to start at fullback in the 2021 season-opener at Forsyth Barr Stadium, but was a late withdrawal from the match day side due to a rib injury.
The 23-year-old was replaced by rookie Chay Fihaki in the No. 15 jersey, while Glasgow-bound speedster Josh McKay filled the vacant spot on the bench.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson said he wasn’t sure how long Jordan would be sidelined for, although more information on the two-test All Black’s fitness will be available early next week.
“We’ll know more Monday, but hopefully this weekend, at this stage, the scans will all clear and stuff. It’s just a pain thing for him,” Robertson said.
Jordan joins the likes of George Bridge (chest), Braydon Ennor (knee), David Havili (concussion), Andrew Makalio (neck), Oli Jager (ankle) and Manasa Mataele (chest) in a growing list of injured Crusaders players.
Fihaki impressed Robertson after coming into the starting side at short-notice. The Crusaders boss said the experience of playing his first Super Rugby match would serve the 20-year-old well moving forward.
“A couple of late changes. Great for Chay Fihaki. He’s a real talent, he’ll be better for tonight,” Robertson said.
The youngster wasn’t the only Crusader who stood out in Dunedin, as some of the franchise’s big-name players caught the eye of Robertson throughout his side’s 26-13 victory.
One of those players was hooker Codie Taylor, who scored a scintillating 40 metre try after bursting through the Highlanders’ defensive line early in the first half.
Playing a total of 68 minutes, the 29-year-old also bagged himself a try assist, won three turnovers, was faultless with his lineout throwing and made 11 of his 12 tackle attempts to play an influential role in the Crusaders’ victory.
Given All Blacks players are expected to receive limited minutes during the early stages of the Super Rugby season, it was surprising to see Taylor on the field for as long as he was.
However, with the match hanging in the balance up until the final 10 minutes, Robertson opted to keep his star man on the park.
Highlanders head coach Tony Brown has vented his frustration at the lack of punishment dished out for repeated infringements after his side lost to the Crusaders on Friday. #SuperRugbyAotearoa https://t.co/xAPBdxUqlI
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 27, 2021
“He was pretty special – that line break and his throwing, everything,” Robertson said.
“If we had scored earlier and Richie [Mo’unga] had got that penalty, we’d probably have taken two or three young guys off [the bench], put Brodie [McAlister] and Fletcher Newell, that was on debut, a chance to go.
“But, just the context of the match, we ran the guys with experience out and, in the next few weeks, we’ll look to manage their minutes better.”
Similarly as impressive was Sevu Reece, who also scored and set up a try and posted some admirable attacking figures, such as 89 running metres and four defenders beaten.
It was the 23-year-old’s work rate without the ball in hand, though, that Robertson was especially proud of, although he made special mention of Reece’s spectacular diving effort to score in the second half.
“Wow, his work off the ball was incredible, his running metres will be off the charts, his precision and finishing… That’s a world-class finish in the corner,” Robertson said.
“He’s pretty unique. He left his mark out there tonight.”
The All Blacks are set to face hosts France in the opening match of the 2023 Rugby World Cup.https://t.co/Rxpuw75A3b
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) February 27, 2021
Despite his side’s defeat, Highlanders head coach Tony Brown was equally as happy with some of his players, particularly those who came off the bench.
Featuring the likes of Josh Ioane, Liam Squire and Folau Fakatava, the Highlanders’ reserves offered plenty of firepower upon their inductions into the match.
“I thought the guys coming off the bench did a good job,” Brown said.
“I think it was great to see Liam Squire out there. I think Hugh Renton had a massive impact on the game. Connor Garden-Bachop, obviously playing his first game for the Highlanders, was outstanding.
“Lots of good performances, we’ve just got to be 10 percent better to beat those guys.”
Brown added his side are capable of performing that little bit better, but need to add a cutting edge to their game to emerge victorious in tightly fought matches.
“I don’t believe we’re far away at all. Everything was there, we’ve just got to be really ruthless when we get those opportunities.”
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