Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Key absences 'not an issue' for Super 15 teams

Chiefs and Crusaders prepare for Friday's crunch Super rugby clash with their All Blacks off at training camp.

Players are put through their paces at an All Black training session at the ASB Arena in Mt Maunganui yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege
Players are put through their paces at an All Black training session at the ASB Arena in Mt Maunganui yesterday. Photo / Christine Cornege

As one of the most awaited matches of the Super rugby season approaches, the coaches of the Chiefs and Crusaders are preparing as normal, despite missing their best players.

Friday night's showdown between the New Zealand conference heavyweights in Hamilton will paint a clearer picture of where their playoff hopes are at. The Crusaders are building ominously, dispatching the Blues in Christchurch at the weekend, while the Chiefs put in an impressive defensive effort in beating the Hurricanes in Wellington to maintain their place at the top of the table.

Yet with the All Black coaches holding a three-day wider training group camp at Mt Maunganui until late tonight, Todd Blackadder and Dave Rennie will oversee only one proper training run this week.

It is an unwelcome interruption that they are becoming used to - it was brought in last year - and there is no point in complaining about it now.

Besides, there is another one next week.

It is understood the five New Zealand Super rugby coaches were given the option of missing their best players for a week or two half-weeks and they chose the latter.

They also have the small comfort of knowing that next year - when the All Blacks host England in June - is the last time it's likely to happen. There will be no June tests during the World Cup year of 2015 and after that the hope is that a restructured season - probably brought about by player power - means each competition will play in its own window.

The Crusaders are the worst affected, with nine of their players involved in the current camp. The Blues, preparing for an important match against the Brumbies at Eden Park, have eight players away. The Chiefs have six up the road in Mt Maunganui, although their players' involvement next week is mitigated by their second bye.

The Hurricanes have a bye this week, with the Highlanders' players not involved as they are in Perth preparing to play the Force.

For both Blackadder and Rennie, it's business as usual, although for the former, having just got his All Blacks to click over the last two matches - important wins over the Brumbies and Blues - he has lost them to the national team.

"We actually haven't altered anything, apart from our All Blacks not being here," he said. "It was always in the programme so nothing changes for us."

Rennie gets his players back a little earlier than Blackadder - tonight as opposed to tomorrow morning - but again, the Crusaders coach was philosophical about that.

The Chiefs coach, in charge of a squad already disrupted by injury, said: "We did it last year, it's not really a major issue.

"They won't get flogged there. It's more about getting their head around things, they'll do a lot of recovery stuff. Our guys will come back on Tuesday night. We'll catch up with them and get them up to speed with what we've done from a review and preview perspective so they're ready to go Wednesday morning."

Big guns in action

All Blacks in camp playing this weekend:
Chiefs: Ben Afeaki, Sam Cane, Aaron Cruden, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Liam Messam and Brodie Retallick.
Crusaders: Dominic Bird, Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Israel Dagg, Owen Franks, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Tom Taylor and Samuel Whitelock.
Blues: Frank Halai, Steven Luatua, Keven Mealamu, Charles Piutau, Rene Ranger, Francis Saili, Piri Weepu and Ali Williams.

- NZ Herald

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