Crusaders show depth with side to face Fijian Drua

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Injury to All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor, who has a rib cartilage strain, and rest for prop George Bower has seen Ricky Jackson and Finlay Brewis being given starting roles for the side, while Zach Gallagher will start at lock.

Captain Scott Barrett has switched to the blindside flank, with Ethan Blackadder stepping back to No8.

Assistant coach Jason Ryan said all of the Crusaders' loose forwards were adaptable to different roles. Ethan Blackadder will start at No8 this week, but Pablo Matera was another who was versatile, while Cullen Grace had also played blindside flanker and lock.

"They're all pretty versatile. Ethan's game overall is heading in the right direction. His contact area that he brings is world leading. He is so accurate, diligent but gives you variety in your loose forward trio," he said.

So far as the front-rowers were concerned, Ryan said it was another chance for less experienced players to get time on the field.

"One thing with front rowers, you've got to play them every week," he said.

"They need to make sure they get their week right, on and off the field, so that we can set them up for their minutes.

"All of those boys are starting to get consistency in their game, and they're pressuring each other. We have no problem starting, or finishing, any of them, and that's encouraging," he said.

Ryan has a dual interest in the game. While he said he was concentrating on the Crusaders, he has good reason to keep a watch on the Drua, given his coaching role with the Fijian Test side.

One observation he had made was that they had developed more speed in their lineout execution as the Super Rugby competition has advanced.

"They look to jump pretty fast, so we've got to be on top there," he said.

"They love free style, there's not a lot of structure. They love open play. They love an offload game. That's how they've played on the island, and how they've been introduced to rugby. That's what they'll like to do."

While it was the inaugural game between the two sides, Ryan said Super Rugby Pacific had created opportunities for the players, especially in understanding what it was like to be a professional week-in and week-out.

"It's great for the Fiji national side. We've seen some great things there," he said.

Fiji coach Vern Cotter has been watching the side closely, and the competition has produced some encouragment for the side.


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