Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders give surprise call-up to No10 Bryn Gatland

Bryn Gatland, who played a starring role for North Harbour last year, has been signed by the Crusaders as temporary injury cover. / Photo: Photosport
Bryn Gatland, who played a starring role for North Harbour last year, has been signed by the Crusaders as temporary injury cover. / Photo: Photosport

Bryn Gatland, the 21-year-old first-five who moved from Waikato to North Harbour for more game time and helped his new team win a championship with a nerveless penalty in the final minute against Otago last year, has been signed as temporary injury cover by the Crusaders.

It is understood that the Crusaders have been searching for a player to cover No10 since Richie Mo'unga was ruled out for up to eight weeks with a broken hand suffered during his team's round one victory over the Brumbies in Christchurch.

Tim Bateman, who has returned to the Crusaders after stints at the Hurricanes and in Japan, was signed during the off season as a midfielder or first-five but injured his back during the Brisbane Global 10s tournament.

So while Mitchell Hunt and Marty McKenzie did well at first-five in the Crusaders' spectacular 30-27 come-from-behind victory over the Highlanders, the franchise needed additional cover and Gatland, the son of former All Black and current British and Irish Lions coach Warren, has received the call-up.

Gatland the younger, a mature, steady player with a big clearing kick and a right foot which is extremely accurate off the tee, was seen as unlucky to miss out on a Super Rugby contract this year.

He played for the Blues Development team against their Chiefs counterparts at Waikato Stadium at the weekend and has now been given the opportunity to take his game to the next level.

Gatland is unlikely to be in the frame for the Crusaders when they play the British and Irish Lions in Christchurch on June 10, but should he still be in the mix then the media spotlight, particularly from the travelling British pack, would be considerable.

His call-up comes following the return of one-test All Black Lelia Masaga to the Chiefs as injury cover as the high intensity of the competition - particularly in the New Zealand derby matches - takes its toll.

The latest high-profile player to be ruled out is Highlanders and All Blacks loose forward Liam Squire, who injured a knee during the Crusaders match in Dunedin but played on and has now been sidelined for up to six weeks.

The injury continues a theme among the Highlanders loose forwards and will rule Squire out of the match against the Blues at Eden Park on Saturday, but the southerners could yet be boosted by the return from concussion of fullback Ben Smith.

Squire, who was noticeably fired-up on defence early against the Crusaders, impressed his coaches with his toughness in staying on for the remainder of the match, and there is no doubt his absence will affect the Highlanders pack against the Blues.

"It's huge," assistant coach Scott McLeod said of the injury blow. "We felt he had an outstanding night and really motivated a lot of our players. He did a lot of damage, but in saying that, we've got other players who will step into that void and hopefully bring that same intensity."

The Highlanders are already without loose forwards James Lentjies (dislocated elbow), Dan Pryor (knee) and Shane Christie (illness), but may welcome back No8 Luke Whitelock from a shoulder injury for the match against the Blues on Saturday night.

Tasman flanker Christie, a Highlanders co-captain last year, has been suffering from an undiagnosed illness which has ruled him out of pre-season and his team's first two matches.

- NZ Herald

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