Disclaimer: I promise my next piece will NOT be on the Crusaders, or a Crusaders player!
If you remember, my first piece for Pink Rugby was about the doom and gloom surrounding the Crusaders outside backs.
In case you don’t remember, here is a brief rundown:
Zac Guildford (who it is clear I am rather fond of) was out of rugby indefinitely, due to what the media liked to call ‘off field issues’ – aka, alcoholism. Sean Maitland had moved to greener, colder pastures to play for Glasgow and Scotland. Israel Dagg was suddenly the most senior, experienced member of the outside backs, with Tom Marshall and Adam Whitelock adding SOME experience – but no international experience. Johnny McNicholl was the new kid, the yet-to-be-capped debutant who had impressed in the 2012 ITM Cup.
THEN, a sigh of relief was breathed when (two weeks after my initial piece was published), Zac was reinstated to the Crusaders and FINALLY some of the much needed experience was back. Furthermore, Tom Marshall had been putting on some rather impressive displays on the wing and at fullback, while young Johnny McNicholl was also making his mark on the game, proving he was more than up to the standard required to play at Super XV level. It seemed that between Dagg, Guildford, Marshall and McNicholl, the Crusaders were onto something.
After two losses on the run, the Crusaders returned to Christchurch and took on the Bulls. Tom Marshall scored a sublime solo-effort try from halfway, Johnny McNicholl notched up his first Super XV try, and Israel Dagg gave a solid performance at fullback. After what had been a dismal, disappointing, worrisome start to the season, the Crusaders seemed to be back on track. Zac Guildford joined with the team the day before the match, and it is said he addressed the team and gave a very emotional, inspirational speech – which both captain and coach said inspired the team to win. The team was complete. They were back together – and the following week Zac would be up for selection. It seemed that the Crusaders outside back woes were a thing of the past.
The following week, Zac was selected on the bench for the game against the Kings, with Dagg, Marshall and McNicholl in the starting 15. It was assumed that Zac would go on with 20-30 minutes left on the clock – a chance to give him a bit of a hit out, to wean him back into the game gently.
Zac Guildford ran onto the field in the starting 15 that night – and it wasn’t because of a last minute shuffle either. No. That would have been too easy. Too straightforward. Instead, Zac Guildford was promoted from bench to starting 15 because of an injury. A hamstring injury to Israel Dagg – which is ironic, because a hamstring injury is what kept Zac out of most of the 2012 ITM Cup.
Adam Whitelock moved to the bench, Tom Marshall went to fullback, Zac reclaimed the #11 jersey, with Johnny moving to the #14 jersey. The team went on to win – and to win well. Tom Marshall again played exceptionally well, and the fact that Israel Dagg wasn’t on the field didn’t seem like such a huge deal at the end of the day. Besides, Izzy only had a hamstring strain, and it was confirmed he would be back the following week, when the Crusaders were to play the Stormers in Cape Town.
What a relief, the Crusaders would have their strongest outside back trio for the Stormers – a game that would undoubtedly be their toughest match of the season to date.
Guildford was named on the bench again, with McNicholl, Dagg and Marshall in the 11, 15 and 14 jerseys. McNicholl had proven himself and Guildford would provide fresh (very experienced) legs off the bench – something that would be very beneficial in what would undoubtedly be a very physical encounter against the Stormers. Adam Whitelock was also named on the bench, as cover for the midfield backs – a good way to ensure all the outside backs got a bit of game time.
BUT THEN…. (go on, you were expecting a ‘but then’, weren’t you!!!)
On Friday morning I was greeted by a tweet on Twitter, casually mentioning that Israel Dagg had again withdrawn from the team, due to that pesky tight hamstring. This time it wasn’t as simple as putting Zac in the starting 15 and having Adam Whitelock replace him on the bench. If you remember, Adam Whitelock was already ON the bench. No problem – we know Tom Taylor can play at fullback if need be. OH WAIT. He was unavailable because of an INJURY!
The Crusaders were officially lacking someone to sit on the bench in the #22 jersey. There was no one to fill in as a replacement for the outside backs.
So…. the coaching team did what any coaching team would do – and put a flanker on the bench for the outside backs. One would imagine that the coaching team hoped and prayed they wouldn’t need to use him. As long as there were no injuries, they would be fine.
Naturally, Johnny McNicholl broke his ankle in the 20th minute of the game.
A collective “OH F**K!” could be heard across Crusader-land (well, if it hadn’t been 6.30am local time, I’m sure it would have been) as McNicholl was carted off the field, his season over. The situation for the outside backs was suddenly looking dire again.
Adam Whitelock took Johnny’s place on the wing and the midfield backs played out the full 80 minutes, so there was no need for history to repeat itself and for a flanker to be thrown from the scrum to the wing. Yea. That happened before. In 2011 Matt Todd had to play on the wing due to injuries amongst the backs. The game was against the Stormers. In Cape Town. Deja vu anyone?
The Crusaders – sans Richie McCaw, Kieran Read (injured), Dan Carter (on paternity leave), Israel Dagg and Owen Franks (off after 20 minutes with a rib injury), went on to unexpectedly beat the Stormers. It’s an enormous undertaking for a team to beat a South African franchise in South Africa, but for a team to do it when missing who could be argued to be their most influential players – it’s almost a miracle.
The final score was 19-14, with the Crusaders only try coming from Matt Todd – the remaining 15 points all being kicked by understudy to Dan Carter, Tyler Bleyendaal. The Crusaders attacking AND defensive efforts were amazing (in fairness, so were the Stormers), and by recording the win, they surely sent a message to the other Super XV franchises. A very scary message at that.
BUT (remember, there is always a but!) ther Crusaders are again in a very precarious position with regard to their outside backs. Telusa Veainu has been called in as back up for McNicholl – but he is it for the remainder of the competition. Another Crusaders outside back being injured would be a major problem for the franchise, and hopefully a problem that doesn’t eventuate.
On a personal level, I am hugely upset by the injury to Johnny. I became excited by him in the 2012 ITM Cup and just knew he’d get a Super XV contract – which he did. I’ve loved watching his progress and seeing him impress in his first year with the Crusaders. My plan had been to do a Kiwi Focus piece on Johnny later on in the season, when he was the player everyone was talking about – but obviously that won’t be happening now… Because I’m such a huge fan of Johnny, it seems only right to now objectify the poor man and give him a McBonbon rating… So here goes!
Hot Daddy points: 0
Facial scruff: 1
Overall hotness: 5
McBonbon Scale standings:
52% – Matt Todd
40% – Johnny McNicholl
24% – Gareth Anscombe