The Crusaders, hosting their first Super Rugby Final in Christchurch since 2008, are struggling with increasing injury woes.
The Crusaders have confirmed they will be without bruising flank Jordan Taufua for Saturday’s Super Rugby Final showdown with the Lions.
He suffered a broken arm in the 30-12 win over the Hurricanes at the weekend.
Coach Scott Robertson also faced a question mark over backline leader Ryan Crotty and was grappling with a dwindling stock of hookers – as he began Sunday to prepare for the showdown in Christchurch.
Tighthead prop Michael Alaalatoa is also in doubt after tweaking his back.
Robertson confirmed Taufua will require surgery for the fractured arm.
Crotty left the field in the 73rd minute, to undergo a head injury assessment.
“We will monitor him [Crotty] during the week, he passed the first part of it,” the coach said.
“He did get a bell ringer and we will just trust our medical staff with the process.”
Regular backup hooker Andrew Makalio was a late withdrawal from the bench and missed his team’s semifinal win over the Hurricanes.
Makalio suffered a calf strain at training and is unlikely to be fit for the Final.
Makalio has stood in for regular reserve hooker Ben Funnell for most of the season, who managed seven appearances before suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Sebastian Siataga, who replaced Makalio in the No.16 jersey for the semifinal, is also out for the final.
After replacing starter Codie Taylor in the 71st minute, Siataga lasted just two minutes before he had to leave the field with what looked like an arm injury, and was sent to the hospital for scans.
It was later confirmed that he will require surgery.
The Crusaders, who have won a record eight titles, are hoping to go back-to-back for the third time – having won a hat-trick of titles from 1998 to 2000 and also in 2005 and 2006.
Injuries aside, Robertson viewed this past Saturday’s semifinal victory over the Hurricanes as a sign his defending champions were tracking well to claim a ninth title, with discipline, defence and the skills of fly-half Richie Mo’unga working as planned.
“We wanted to be really clean and I think we gave four penalties away for the whole game and that’s way below average,” he said.
“We defended amazingly and its given us a chance of one more week, and Richie’s controlling everything. He’s got time, he’s brave and made some big tackles.”
After the Crusaders cruised to a 30-12 semifinal victory, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd pointed to the strength of their powerful forward pack.
“They just keep putting that pressure on the supply of ball and we had trouble at times at the scrum, we had trouble at times at the line-out, we had trouble at times in the breakdown,” he said.
“We couldn’t get any go forward to get ourselves rolling.”
Even with the loss of Taufua, Robertson has Wallaby international Pete Samu to call on for the starting pack to join seven All Blacks.
Apart from the venue, next Saturday’s final will be a repeat of last year’s showdown when the Crusaders beat the Lions 25-17 in Johannesburg to claim their eighth Super crown.
The South Africans, who downed the Waratahs 44-26 in their semifinal, go into their third consecutive Final.
Their forwards looked impressive against the Australians with two tries to hooker Malcolm Marx from driving mauls, and when they played wide, wing Aphiwe Dyantyi produced a long-range touchdown.
“Their strengths are the reason they have got to the final,” Robertson noted.
“Their ability to maul and they have got incredible guys who can turn a ball over in Kwagga (Smith) and Malcolm Marx. They are just an abrasive, big pack.
“They have been hurt a couple of times in finals,” Robertson added.
“We know what happened last year with the red card, the controversy and we held on in the end there.”
In last year’s final, the Crusaders led 25-3 at half-time only for the Lions to come back with 14 unanswered points in the second half despite being a man down, with Smith red-carded just before the break.