Crusaders reshuffled for Force
20 April 2006*
By RICHARD KNOWLER
Crusaders coach Robbie Deans has spun his selection wheel once again, making seven changes for tomorrow night's Super 14 rugby match against the Western Force in Perth.
All Blacks Chris Jack and Greg Somerville are the most notable omissions from the side that beat the Cheetahs 53-17 last weekend.
Loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett and lock Kevin O'Neill get their second starts of the season, Corey Flynn returns to hooker and Ross Filipo to lock.
In the backs, Andy Ellis is back at halfback and Aaron Mauger and Caleb Ralph have been injected into the midfield.
The Crusaders have stuck to the tradition of not talking down their opponents this week, but a loss is as likely as Osama bin Laden being invited to the White House to smoke the peace pipe.
The Force has lost all nine games this season, collecting just two competition points.
The Crusaders have nine wins and with 40 points already seem assured of a home semi-final.
Although Deans and Force coach John Mitchell were former coaching partners with the All Blacks, the former said there will be no sympathy for Mitchell during the match.
"We won't be showing too much empathy for their circumstance until after the fixture," Deans said. "We don't want to be their first result."
That is highly unlikely.
If the Crusaders build a handy lead over the injury-stricken Force, Deans will likely utilise his reserves in the second half.
This should see Bay of Plenty teenage flanker Tanerau Latimer get his first run in the Super 14 and Stephen Brett make his second appearance off the bench at first five-eighths.
In-form blindside flanker Reuben Thorne is the only forward to start every match this season.
The only danger for the Crusaders is if they take their opponents too lightly, giving the Force a sniff of creating the Vesuvius-like boilover.
"Yeah, there's been a bit of talk that we have to make sure we are mentally on our game," Thorne said.
"That is one aspect that is worrying. But, you know, we are focusing on our own standards and performance and just hope that we are able to do that."
He added that playing at an "away" venue can work in the Crusaders' favour.
"We tend to go all right when we are away from home because all those other elements come up against you as well – opposition crowd and those factors. So you pull together."
Deans is mindful of keeping his players fresh for the two-match leg of South Africa, where they will play the Stormers in Cape Town and the Bulls in Pretoria.
The Crusaders arrived in Perth on Tuesday night.
Because franchises are only allowed to take 26 players on tour, lock Craig Clarke and wing Steven Yates have been left behind to play in the Christchurch metro club competition.
Meanwhile, the Force's dreadful run with injuries has continued.
Wallabies hooker Brendan Cannon is the latest to be ruled out with a nerve problem in his neck, which has weakened his left shoulder.
First five-eighths James Hilgendorf was ruled out for the rest of the season after being smacked in the eye by Rua Tipoki last weekend.
Lock Rudi Vedelago will also not be seen again.
Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Rico Gear, Caleb Ralph, Aaron Mauger, Scott Hamilton, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Mose Tuiali'i, Richie McCaw ©, Reuben Thorne, Kevin O'Neill, Ross Filipo, Campbell Johnstone, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Tone Kopelani, Greg Somerville, Johnny Leo'o, Tanerau Latimer, Kevin Senio, Stephen Brett, Casey Laulala.
Western Force: Cameron Shepherd, Haig Sare, Josh Graham, Scott Staniforth, Digby Ioane, Scott Daruda, Matt Henjak, Scott Fava, Matt Hodgson, David Pusey, Nathan Sharpe (captain), Pat O'Connor, Angus Scott, Tai McIsaac, Gareth Hardy. Reserves: Luke Holmes, David Te Moana, Luke Doherty, Tim Davidson, Chris O'Young, Brock James, Tajhon Mailata.