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Crusaders lose Sam Whitelock and two other players to injury

By Sam Smith
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Crusaders veteran Sam Whitelock will be sidelined for the next four weeks after breaking his finger, one of three fresh injuries that have hit the Christchurch-based franchise.

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Whitelock was absent from his side’s 34-19 Super Rugby Pacific win over the Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday after undergoing surgery earlier in the week.

In the days after his operation, it has been confirmed that Whitelock will miss up to a month of action, meaning the earliest he will next play is when the Crusaders face the Waratahs in Sydney on April 30.

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News of Whitelock’s injury comes in the same week that his long-serving All Blacks second row partner and Chiefs lock Brodie Retallick will be out for between six-to-eight weeks after breaking his thumb against the Crusaders.

It means Retallick may miss the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific regular season, but could return for the Chiefs should they qualify for the play-offs, and possibly even for their final round match against the Fijian Drua on May 27.

Retallick’s and Whitelock’s injuries will be a concern for All Blacks boss Ian Foster and his assistant, but the latter’s setback affects Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson more pertinently given he is also without two further players.

One of those players is Whitelock’s fellow lock Mitchell Dunshea, who left the field with a knee injury after landing awkwardly in a tackle on Saturday shortly after having come onto the field at FMG Stadium Waikato.

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Robertson confirmed to media on Wednesday that Dunshea will be gone for the remainder of the campaign after damaging his medial collateral ligament.

“We’re just waiting to hear the surgeon’s report, but he had a pretty serious knee injury, medial, and they had to open up and check parts of the bone,” Robertson said.

That leaves the Crusaders with just three of their five contracted locks to pick from over the coming weeks, with captain Scott Barrett and Quinten Strange expected to resume their starting roles against the Highlanders on Friday.

The other second row option available to Robertson is 20-year-old rookie Zach Gallagher. Tasman lock Antonio Shalfoon has also been training with the squad, while loose forward Dominic Gardiner can cover there as well.

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“It’s been a hell of a casualty ward the last few weeks,” Robertson said after having also had to have dealt with a widespread Covid outbreak within his squad.

“The depth of your squad is always tested. This year we’ve had more debutants than we’ve had in a number of years, and all of them have stood up.

“That’s the exciting thing. We always feel for the players that get injured and that’s part of rugby, but for the next guy to step up like they have, we’re excited for Zach.”

The other injury that the Crusaders have been dealt as a result of the Chiefs clash is one sustained by hooker Brodie McAlister, who injured calf will keep him sidelined for four-to-six weeks.

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