Having clinched the Super Rugby Aotearoa title with a round to spare, don’t expect the Crusaders to front up against the Blues with a full-strength team in the final round of action this Sunday.
Head coach Scott Robertson, who is reportedly expected to extend his contract with the Christchurch franchise through until 2023, has revealed he is weighing up whether he will rest some of his key players at this weekend’s clash at Eden Park.
Eager to end a six-year drought against their historic rivals, there will be no shortage of motivation for the second-placed Blues, whose title aspirations were nullified when the Crusaders defeated the Highlanders 32-22 at Orangetheory Stadium yesterday.
With the match effectively a dead-rubber given the Crusaders have already stored away the Super Rugby Aotearoa silverware, the clash could present Robertson with an opportunity to blood some younger players who haven’t yet been called upon.
The likes of prop Harry Allen and midfielder Inga Finau haven’t featured at all this year, while others such as Manasa Mataele and Fergus Burke haven’t taken played for the Crusaders since returning from the COVID-19 lockdown.
Fielding such inexperience could prove to be detrimental to the team’s chances of winning, though, especially given the Blues are likely to name a strong side in a bid to end their 12-match hoodoo against the Crusaders in front of a sold-out Eden Park.
It’s a predicament that Robertson described as a tough balancing act in the wake of his squad’s victory over the Highlanders.
“It’s a really good question,’’ he said, as quoted by Stuff. “We haven’t gone too deep into it [selection talk], because we just wanted to get this result sorted.’’
“It’s a balance, because if you chuck too many out your cohesion goes, and you’ve got to make sure you’ve got enough players that are match fit.’’
What is certain is that Robertson will be without two of his key props, Joe Moody and Oli Jager.
Both left the field with injuries yesterday. Moody was pulled from the game with a neck injury after just 14 minutes, while Jager was stretchered off the park after being on the receiving end of a reckless shoulder charge by Sio Tomkinson in the second half.
That should hand Allen and fellow back-up props Isi Tu’ungafasi and George Bower – who was Moody’s replacement against the Highlanders – an opportunity for game time against the Blues alongside incumbent starter Michael Alaalatoa.
Stuff reports that star first-five Richie Mo’unga, who has arguably been the player of the competition, may also miss the game due to the expected birth of his first child within the next week.
Having played all but four minutes of the Crusaders’ Super Rugby Aotearoa campaign, Mo’unga’s absence could also open the door for one-test All Blacks playmaker Brett Cameron and rookie pivot Burke this weekend.
‘’We will discuss it with him, if that’s the right thing…look, we’ll have chat,” Robertson said of Mo’unga’s availability.
The Crusaders will name their side for the final game of the Super Rugby Aotearoa season on Friday afternoon.
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