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'Managed minutes' finally hands Crusaders protege an opportunity to run the cutter

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

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It’s been a long time coming but young first five Fergus Burke has finally been handed the reins to run the cutter for the Crusaders as the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions eye up their final home match of the season.

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Burke was named in last year’s Crusaders squad as one of 12 new call-ups but has found game time hard to come by over the past two seasons.

With two All Blacks ahead of him in the pecking order, Brett Cameron and Richie Mo’unga, minutes were always going to be at a premium for the young No 10.

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As such, in the 25 games that the Crusaders have played throughout 2020 and 2021, Burke has managed just nine appearances totalling 111 minutes.

Promisingly for the 21-year-old, however, it appears that Burke has taken over as the second-choice first five for the Crusaders, pushing himself ahead of 2018 All Blacks tourist Brett Cameron.

On Friday evening, Burke is finally set to make his first starting appearance for the Crusaders and will wear the coveted No 10 jersey when his side take on the Western Force in Christchurch.

Burke takes over from Richie Mo’unga who has been an almost permanent fixture at No 10 for the Crusaders over the past two years, missing just one match through injury.

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While Burke has served an admirable apprenticeship behind Mo’unga, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson would likely have persisted with his usual first five-eighth were it not for All Blacks rest mandates from New Zealand Rugby. The protocol hasn’t been quite so stringent this year as in past seasons but Mo’unga and some of his teammates have shouldered a heavy load in 2021 and are due a rest every now and again.

That was easy during Super Rugby Aotearoa, with no more than four matches played before every bye, but the Crusaders haven’t had a break since the week before the Aotearoa final. As such, Mo’unga, Samuel Whitelock and prop George Bower have all been given the week off.

Friday night’s fixture grants Burke the opportunity to prove that’s he’s up to the challenge of starting a Super Rugby match and that he’s the right man to lead the Crusaders around the park in Mo’unga’s absence.

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The Crusaders have often opted to play without a first five on the reserves bench thanks to the presence of outstanding utility back David Havili, who can slot in at No 10 if necessary. A strong performance from Burke, however, may cause a shift in thinking from Robertson.

A win with a bonus point would give the Crusaders the best possible chance of securing a spot in the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman final in two and a half weeks’ time as the Aotearoa champions currently sit in third place on the ladder, behind the Hurricanes and Blues, who have secured bonus point victories in all their Trans-Tasman matches to date.

Friday’s match kicks off at 7:05pm NZT.

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'Managed minutes' finally hands Crusaders protege an opportunity to run the cutter

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