Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders hampered by double injury blow

Andy Ellis of the Crusaders looks to pass the ball. Photo / Getty Images
Andy Ellis of the Crusaders looks to pass the ball. Photo / Getty Images

An already difficult assignment for the Crusaders in Todd Blackadder's last few weeks as coach has just been made much tougher - key backs Andy Ellis and Nemani Nadolo have been ruled out of their quarter-final against the Lions in Johannesburg due to injury.

Halfback Ellis strained a calf in the final drill of the warm-up before his team's 35-10 defeat to the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium, while wing Nadolo strained a hamstring during it. The injuries could represent the end of two contrasting but equally important playing careers at the franchise - Ellis, who has played more than 150 matches for the red and blacks and is a key cog in their backline, is retiring after this season, while Nadolo is moving to France after a high-impact three seasons at the franchise.

The travel schedule to Johannesburg will also play a part, although the Lions also have a difficult schedule getting home from Buenos Aires.

Blackadder's team are unable to leave for the Republic until Tuesday due to a lack of flights.

Even should they win at Ellis Park, the short turnaround between long-haul flights would leave them disadvantaged for any semifinal in New Zealand.

Blackadder, who watched the Jaguares-Lions game and thought his side would be travelling to Wellington for a rematch against the Hurricanes for their quarter-final until the Argentine side won 34-22, said the next few days in Christchurch would be spent recovering physically from their loss to the Hurricanes.

Lock Sam Whitelock, named in the starting line-up to play Chris Boyd's team despite falling ill with a virus, was a late withdrawal but should be well enough to travel. Several players in his squad were ill during the week, Blackadder said.

"If anything, it will give us a chance to freshen up and allow us to take a fit team away," he told the Herald. "This is the time of the season when you need to be together as a group, and our time in South Africa will help us do that."

Perhaps unlucky to concede a try on the stroke of halftime at AMI Stadium, which cost them the lead, the Crusaders failed to fire an attacking shot in the second half. The Hurricanes were also disadvantaged when losing Ngani Laumape before kickoff, but the rejigged midfield of Willis Halaholo and Jason Woodward cut the Crusaders to pieces at times.

"I was disappointed with our performance, but I take nothing away from the Hurricanes, they played well and put us under a lot of pressure. We knew they would bring line-speed on defence and we failed to cope with it, so there is a lesson there."

The defeat was the Crusaders' fourth this season - all have come against New Zealand opponents, with the Chiefs (twice), Highlanders and now Hurricanes proving too good.

Blackadder has yet to announce his intentions for next year - recent British reports suggest he and assistant Tabai Matson could be heading to Bath - but his time at the franchise will soon come to an end.

"Everything now is a one-off game," he said.

2016 Super Rugby quarter-final draw
Fri at 8pm: Brumbies [4] v Highlanders [5] at GIO Stadium, Canberra
Sat at 7.35pm: Hurricanes [1] v Sharks [8] at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Sun at 2.30am: Lions [2] v Crusaders [7] at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Sun at 5am: Stormers [3] v Chiefs [6] at Newlands, Cape Town
* Regular season finish in brackets

- NZ Herald

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