Kieran Read has been ruled out for another week due to his concussion, a lingering problem which must be increasingly concerning for not only him and the Crusaders, but also the All Blacks.
According to a Crusaders press release this morning, Read was again ruled out early in the week before Saturday's match against the table-topping Sharks in Christchurch. He was also ruled out early before last weekend's big victory over the Reds in Brisbane.
The No8 suffered his concussion, his second of the season, from a high tackle by Mike Fitzgerald during the narrow victory over the Chiefs in Hamilton on April 19. The following week was a bye for the Crusaders. Read has missed the victories over the Brumbies, Reds and now the match against the Sharks.
Earlier, he suffered a head knock early in the loss to the Hurricanes, a disappointing end to his 100th Crusaders' match, and missed the following week's victory over the Lions in Johannesburg.
"Kieran was still showing some really minor signs of concussion at the start of the week and, given that it's been a short week for us to prepare anyway due to a late flight back from Brisbane, we decided the sensible thing to do was to make the call early that he wouldn't be available. He hasn't been able to fully participate in contact training for a little while so we're better off giving him more space and time to get back to 100 per cent,'' coach Todd Blackadder said.
While Read's absence has so far been covered over by the impressive form of Luke Whitelock, and the return of All blacks skipper Richie McCaw, the Crusaders will want the 2013 IRB player of the year in the mix for their run-in.
The All Blacks will also monitoring his health very closely, with the first test against England on June 7 rapidly approaching.
Blackadder has elected to rest fullback Israel Dagg for the Sharks, with Tom Taylor, who is himself a recent victim of concussion, taking his place.
"Leaving Izzy out of the mix this week is purely preventative,'' Blackadder said of Dagg, who has been managing a knee problem. "We've been really happy with the way he's been playing, but there are some early signs of wear and tear and we just want to make sure that we manage that so that he can continue to play at his best.''
Dominic Bird will join Sam Whitelock at lock, with Luke Romano out of contention after breaking an ankle last weekend.
Halfbacks Willi Heinz and Andy Ellis have rotated again so that Heinz takes the starting spot for his 50th Crusaders' game.
Crusaders team to play the Sharks at AMI Stadium on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm: Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl, Rey Lee-Lo, Ryan Crotty (c), Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Tim Perry, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, George Whiteklock, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Nafi Tuitavake.