A bristling Canterbury Crusaders have moved All Blacks ace Dan Carter to the midfield in a tactical gamble against the unbeaten Western Stormers for round eight of the Super 15.
If the bold move succeeds it could lead to a substantial shake up at the top of the table, where the Waikato Chiefs and Northern Bulls are both poised to cash in on any loss by the pace-setting Stormers.
Second-placed Chiefs, enjoying their best start to a Super season, face the Central Cheetahs, while the third-placed Bulls follow their acrimonious 32-30 win over the Crusaders by playing the bottom-placed Golden Lions.
The try-scoring Chiefs and Bulls have benefited from bonus points, of which the defense-oriented Stormers have none, and that is where the Crusaders have primed Carter to strike.
Incensed by eye-gouging accusations laid by the Bulls last week — which were rejected by the citings commissioner — the Crusaders feel the need to make a stand against the top South African side in Christchurch tomorrow.
Although Carter has not started at inside center for seven years, coach Todd Blackadder said his experience would shore up the midfield and give the side a valuable left-right kicking combination “against the best defensive team in the competition.”
Although the Crusaders are 3-3 so far this year while the Stormers are 6-0, Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said his side would have to improve at the set piece and the breakdown to maintain their unbeaten record.
Coetzee also sidestepped the eye-gouging controversy, saying he “wouldn’t want to get involved in that,” before adding that “the Crusaders are true professionals.”
The Chiefs, with an impressive 5-1 record, take on the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein tomorrow, with the home side confirming Sias Ebersohn will replace Johan Goosen, the season’s leading point-scorer.
The Bulls, who have dropped two games, but sit just two points behind the Chiefs, have made two changes for their local derby against the Lions tomorrow, with J.J. Engelbrecht starting at outside center and Wilhelm Steenkamp returning at lock.
Steenkamp last started for the Bulls three years ago, but has started for the Sharks and Cheetahs since then.
The Sharks, whipped by the Hurricanes last week, head to Auckland to play the Blues today in a battle of the two misfiring sides.
All Blacks-laden Blues have gone through a tumultuous week of finger-pointing and analysis which ended in tears, as well as the dropping of All Blacks Piri Weepu and Ali Williams to the bench.
Captain Keven Mealamu cited Weepu’s lack of fitness as a factor in only winning once this season, while coach Pat Lam broke down when talking about the racial nature of criticism from some Blues fans.
The Sharks, who have lost four matches so far, have a fully fit Patrick Lambie to call on again, but will be without injured hooker Bismarck du Plessis. Freddie Michalak will be on the bench as scrumhalf cover.
Leading Australian side ACT Brumbies are at home to the Melbourne Rebels tomorrow, while the NSW Waratahs head to Perth to play the Western Force today.
The Otago Highlanders, Wellington Hurricanes and Queensland Reds have byes.
FRENCH TOP 14
Top 14 leaders Toulouse saw their hopes of capturing a fifth European Cup title extinguished by outsiders Edinburgh and now turn their sights on seeking solace from a strong end to the French league season.