The Crusaders’ squad depth is set to be tested this week following the revelation that All Blacks utility back David Havili has been ruled out for the remainder of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season with a fractured thumb.
It’s a significant blow for the reigning Super Rugby champions, with their vice-captain Havili finding himself in good from, particularly before the COVID-19 lockdown.
Emergency bowel surgery and the emergence of exciting youngster Will Jordan has made it difficult for Havili to regain a starting place in the side, which was often at fullback.
Capable of playing in the midfield, the three-test All Black also flourished at first-five against the Chiefs back in February, making a strong case early in the season for inclusion in Ian Fsoter’s first national squad.
He will instead join a growing injury list at the Christchurch franchise that already features the likes of squad captain Scott Barrett (foot), Cullen Grace (thumb) and Ethan Blackadder, who underwent knee surgery on Monday night.
Promising young loose forward Grace was given a recovery timeframe of between six-to-eight weeks after sustaining a thumb fracture of his own against the Chiefs three weeks ago.
The 20-year-old required surgery for his injury, though, and it’s yet to be determined if Havili needs to undergo the same process.
“It’s a shame for them,” Ryan said to Stuff of Havili and Blackadder.
“They have both got a lot of respect in the group and were both looking forward to this next block, but it’s been taken from them. But that’s the game.’’
All Blacks and Crusaders midfielder Jack Goodhue also noted the influence Havili wielded over the team, highlighting his form, versatility and leadership qualities as some of the reasons why he’s such a big loss for the squad.
‘’He’s amazing that he can just cover 10 without even playing much there. Huge loss,’’ Goodhue told Stuff.
“He’s been in awesome form, playing some of his best rugby, busting tackles, creating things. And his leadership has been huge, he is a big talker, good communicator, and he always says what needs to be said.
“That will be a tough void to fill. But there is some great leaders in this team, and we seem to just keep trucking along, and we’ll make sure the next person taking that role will be clear and comfortable.’’
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The Crusaders’ growing injury list is indicative of the physical toll players have to endure in Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Players across New Zealand have made no secret about the increased physical edge that comes with playing in Kiwi derbies, and the repercussions of having to play them every week over the course of two months is beginning to hurt the franchises.
Halfback duo Brad Weber and Bryn Hall agreed with each other that the New Zealand-only format isn’t sustainable from a player welfare perspective during their appearance on RugbyPass’ Aotearoa Rugby Pod last week.
Highlanders co-captain Ash Dixon and Hurricanes loose forward Gareth Evans have since doubled down on Weber’s and Hall’s comments, with Evans comparing the intensity of some matches to test match rugby.
“A few guys are dropping off – great for viewership in New Zealand but I’m not so sure how sustainable it is,” the one-cap All Black said.
“The boys love playing in the comp (but) in short no, I don’t think it is sustainable.
“Most of the boys are only coming right at the captains run the following week.
“Some of those real top games are like test match footy. From an attrition rate and boys bodies it’s pretty tough on the lads.”
Dixon added: “I think that what [Weber] said around the sustainability of this competition, there’s a lot of truth to that.
“[Super Rugby Aotearoa] is pretty hard…if we did have semis and finals it would be who is left to play. I know after our game we’ve got a few banged up bodies, this bye week has come at a good time for us.”
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