Rugby: Injured Ellis upbeat about Crusaders' final challenge

By Chris Barclay

Andy Ellis. Photo / Getty Images
Andy Ellis. Photo / Getty Images

Andy Ellis is determined to feature in the Crusaders bid to secure an emotionally charged eighth Super rugby championship on Saturday night when he renews a friendly rivalry with Queensland and Wallabies linchpin Will Genia.

The All Black halfback suffered shoulder and knee injuries when he was brought down by Springbok flanker Schalk Burger's soccer-style sliding tackle 15 minutes into the Crusaders' 29-10 defeat of the Stormers in Cape Town on Sunday - a crude challenge that surprisingly went unsanctioned by the match officials.

A leading contender for the All Blacks World Cup squad, Ellis dismissed concerns about his swollen knee but a tender AC joint meant he would have to play through the pain barrier at Suncorp Stadium.

Ellis experienced discomfort tying his shoes before the long flight from Johannesburg but said the injury had settled since the squad arrived in Brisbane last night.

"A lot of the guys get it [AC joint injuries] and they carry on playing through a season. You just have to deal with a bit of pain," he said.

"The first tackle might be a bit tough but after that you're generally okay. I can't do any more damage."

Ellis starts a painkilling regime today and intends to resume training tomorrow. He will be named in the starting line-up, provided he can "function and pass well".

Naturally Ellis is desperate to play in the final, an occasion full of significance for Cantabrians back home in earthquake-devastated Christchurch.

"It's pretty special. [The Crusaders' play has] put a smile on a lot of people's faces back home and given a bit of hope. The boys have definitely fed off that and we're not satisfied to just stop here, we're pretty keen to finish off."

Ellis was also looking forward to another match-up against Genia, an adversary he developed a friendship with when they played for the Barbarians last year.

"He was my roomie for the week so we hung out, went for coffees and chilled out. We've kept in touch ever since," Ellis said. "We'll probably have a beer afterwards and catch [up] for a coffee during the week."

If Ellis is ruled out, Kahn Fotuali'i - who produced arguably the game of his season at Newlands - lines up against Genia; Willie Heinz has joined the squad on standby.

Reserve lock Luke Romano, who was diagnosed with chickenpox in Cape Town, was scheduled to join the squad early today after being released from quarantine.

Crusaders management hoped he could go on the bench as cover for Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock. If not, former All Blacks lock and veteran Crusader Chris Jack will make one last appearance before he heads to Japan.

The rested Reds had two training sessions yesterday - a light workout then a more strenuous run.

Captain James Horwill felt the squad were keeping their emotions in check before the biggest match of their Super rugby careers.

He said head coach Ewen McKenzie - who lost the 2005 and 2008 finals in Christchurch when in charge of the NSW Waratahs - had maintained the same training regime this week.

"We've spoken about not being overwhelmed by the occasion so it's about doing the same things we've been doing every week."

The transtasman rivals publicly share a mutual respect.

Crusaders assistant coach Daryl Gibson lauded McKenzie's achievement in guiding the Reds to their first Super rugby final while Horwill was similarly impressed with the seven-time champion's ability to overcome adversity associated with the February 22 earthquake.

"We've got to play our best game of the year to win," he said, placing little significance on the Reds' 17-16 regular season victory on May 29.

"They're seasoned at this level, they've been there, done that before."

While there have been murmurings of discontent in the Australian media about Sanzar appointing New Zealand's Bryce Lawrence to control the final Horwill was content. "That's not an issue for us. It was put in place a long time ago."

- NZPA

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