Rugby: Whitelock pays price for Chiefs' hoodoo

By Patrick McKendry

George Whitelock won't face the Chiefs tonight. Photo / Getty Images
George Whitelock won't face the Chiefs tonight. Photo / Getty Images

George Whitelock's absence from the Crusaders' match-day squad to play the Chiefs tonight is a reflection of their desire to try something different against a franchise which has been a step ahead over the past three years.

You know what you're going to get with flanker Whitelock and that is a high work rate and a decent tackle count. The 28-year-old was good for them during their two victories in South Africa following an adductor injury and has been ever-present in their squad when fit.

However, coach Todd Blackadder has decided to give Jordan Taufua a go this time. A 22-year-old who made his debut at this level only last year, Taufua is a different beast altogether.

He normally plays No8 but will be wearing what has traditionally been Whitelock's No6 jersey at Waikato Stadium in a bid to put the Crusaders on the front foot with his ball carrying.

He is good in this area, but Blackadder will hope he makes better decisions as a starting player, rather than someone determined to make an impact off the reserves bench. During the defeat to the Hurricanes in Christchurch it was Taufua's carry close to the line late in the match - when the backs were crying out for the ball - which resulted in Jack Lam's steal for the visitors. He is a high-octane player - the main difference with Whitelock, who operates with more of a diesel engine - but that horsepower must be in sync with what his team are trying to achieve.

Time will tell whether Taufua's selection is a desperate throw of the dice or an inspired decision, but it's clear that No8 Kieran Read needs assistance. So often the Crusaders' attacking fulcrum, Read has struggled for his usual penetration at Waikato Stadium over recent seasons and Taufua might just take some pressure off.

The Crusaders will be backing their pack once again, despite the continued absence of All Black lock Luke Romano and flanker Richie McCaw, who is likely to be back in a fortnight.

The Chiefs will be confident they can scramble their way through their lineout issues. Ben Tameifuna, impressive at tighthead prop against the Rebels, will ensure the Crusaders won't dominate at the scrums.

They might bend at times, but the Chiefs' pack is unlikely to break. They will have got a roasting after their narrow escape against the Rebels last weekend, and with flanker Tanerau Latimer celebrating his 100th match for the franchise, will take the field determined to right some wrongs.

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie will be confident his backs will have an edge over the Crusaders, even allowing for Aaron Cruden's absence.

Mils Muliaina has conceded defeat to his elbow - surgery is needed and the veteran fullback is out for the season - but the Chiefs have recovered from worse setbacks. It's now in their DNA.

Waikato Stadium is a heck of a place for young Taufua to front.

- APNZ

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