Crusaders keep cards close on Kieran Read’s Super Rugby return

Kieran Read would be a welcome addition to the Crusaders back row against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday night.

DIANNE MANSON/ GETTY IMAGES

Kieran Read would be a welcome addition to the Crusaders back row against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday night.

It seems criminal to flag the idea that Kieran Read won’t be in the Crusaders’ match-day 23 to play the Highlanders on Friday night.

Given the All Blacks No 8 displayed no signs of discomfort when he played 40 minutes for Counties-Manukau last week, his first game since spinal surgery in December, an appearance in the Super Rugby match in Christchurch on Friday night seems imminent.

It’s now up to those of us outside the team’s inner-circle to guess whether Read will start, or be in the substitutes, at AMI Stadium.

Kieran Read, centre, hasn't worn a Crusaders jersey since the team beat the Lions 25-17 in the Super Rugby final in ...

GETTY IMAGS

Kieran Read, centre, hasn’t worn a Crusaders jersey since the team beat the Lions 25-17 in the Super Rugby final in Johannesburg last August.

Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar had this to say when the subject was raised: “We have got more or less a full muster to pick from. We will work through that, and how it looks best for us. We will see how we roll.”

So no clues there. Let’s be brave and say Read will make his first appearance for the Crusaders since they won the Super Rugby title by beating the the Lions 25-17 in the final in Johannesburg 11 months ago.

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All Blacks captain Kieran Read performs the haka against Scotland in Edinburgh in November last year.

GETTY IMAGES

All Blacks captain Kieran Read performs the haka against Scotland in Edinburgh in November last year.

If he starts it would likely mean Jordan Taufua is shifted to blindside flanker. With workaholic Matt Todd at No 7, and Read, potentially at No 8, the Crusaders could field one of the most feared back rows in Super Rugby. Which isn’t great news for the Highlanders.

From a psychological perspective, the outing for Counties must have been immense for Read.

“There is nothing quite like putting the old mouthguard in the bag with the boots, and being ready to go to a game,” said Mooar. “It was really good for him to have a hit out. He has come through that well.”

There is also zero chance of Read asking for an extra week’s leave. It would be bonkers to suggest otherwise – he is up for some Super Rugby action.

Although the Crusaders have lost wing Jone Macilai and flanker Billy Harmon for the season with serious leg injuries, the grim news for the Highlanders is that the title holders still have so many All Blacks available.

Taufua, unable to play against France because of a small calf muscle tear, is fit. So, too, is loosehead prop Tim Perry who was knocked out of the series with a hamstring strain.

The Crusaders side that starts on Friday night will have a more intimidating presence, on paper at least, to the one that lost 29-19 to the Highlanders in the first derby game in Dunedin on March 10.

Five All Blacks were unavailable for the game because of injury. First five-eighth Richie Mo’unga couldn’t play because he had a broken jaw, midfielder Ryan Crotty was sidelined with concussion, props Owen Franks and Joe Moody were still recovering from long-term injuries and Read hadn’t even left the gym.

This will be the first time Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger has returned to Christchurch for a Super Rugby match since he left the Crusaders coaching staff to join English club Leicester in 2014.

The Highlanders were beaten 45-22 by the Chiefs in Suva last weekend, having trailed 42-0 at halftime.

The Crusaders need just one more competition point to secure the minor premiership, with a game, against the Blues, still to be played. Mooar was never going to say his team thinks it is already home and hosed. He didn’t disappoint: “Both of our eyes, for everybody, are completely on this game on Friday night.

 – Stuff

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This content was originally published here.