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Crusaders spread far and wide as Covid-19 and injuries force more juggling

Crusaders

Andrew Cornaga/PHOTOSPORT

Crusaders

Super Rugby Pacific: Crusaders v Brumbies

Where: GIO Stadium, Canberra

When: Friday, 9.45pm

Live coverage: Sky Sport 1, live updates on Stuff.

Perth, Canberra and Christchurch – the Crusaders are spread far and wide as they prepare for Friday’s crunch match against the Brumbies.

A few days after three new caps increased the number of players used this season to 45, the juggling of the roster has continued for a variety of reasons.

While captain Scott Barrett (suspension) and vice-captain Codie Taylor (rest) have joined the team in Australia’s capital, flanker Sione Havili Talitui has returned home for a scan on the hamstring he hurt early in last week’s demolition job of the Force.

Four players – Oli Jager, Mitchell Drummond, Zach Gallagher and Dominic Gardiner – have remained in Perth after contracting Covid-19 last week, and won’t be allowed to return to New Zealand until they return negative pre-departure tests, as per the country’s border rules.

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More players could come and go in the coming days, too, assistant coach Scott Hansen said.

However, with Barrett back from suspension, Taylor back on deck after returning home for the birth of his third child, and the rested Jack Goodhue and Sevu Reece available, the Crusaders are in a position to name one of their strongest sides of the season on Wednesday.

Crusaders academy members Seb Calder and George Bell made their Super Rugby debuts against the Force on Saturday night.

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Crusaders academy members Seb Calder and George Bell made their Super Rugby debuts against the Force on Saturday night.

That’s a big swing from last week, when the team required a New Zealand Rugby exemption to clear 19-year-old academy members, prop Seb Calder and hooker George Bell, to face the Force.

Northland lock Liam Hallam-Eames also debuted, having only met the players and coaches the previous day.

”How exciting was that, to have three young men get out and join the Crusaders’ family?” Hansen said.

“The two young men in the front row. Wow! How exciting is that for the Crusaders going forward, around two young men putting their hands up already?”

Hansen’s comments follow Robertson’s at the weekend, when he lauded the team’s highly touted academy for producing players capable of handling the rigours of Super Rugby.

Bell, who scored on debut, has signed long term with the Crusaders, but isn’t likely to be required this week with Taylor back on board.

Crusaders wing George Bridge said he could not recall a situation to the one surrounding Hallam-Eames in his six years with the team.

Crusaders wing George Bridge, left, kicked the ball Will Jordan ran away with and scored against the Force on Saturday night.

Paul Kane/Getty Images

Crusaders wing George Bridge, left, kicked the ball Will Jordan ran away with and scored against the Force on Saturday night.

“He got here, was pretty nervous to be in a new environment and stuff, but the lads got around him and he was pretty stoked to get out on the pitch and get a bit of game time.”

Having turned in arguably his best performance of the season against the Force, Bridge believed his form, was headed in the right direction on the back of getting more involved after playing fullback against the Rebels last month.

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That’s despite him lining up on the right wing against the Force, and Leicester Fainga’anuku bagging a hat-trick in the No 11 jersey Bridge had mostly owned since 2017.

“I know, it always seems to be the case with me, though, I dunno, I just end up having to chase kicks and what not, that’s about all I do really?” Bridge said, laughing.

He also admitted the chip kick he put in during the second half of last week’s game was for himself, only for Jordan to steam in and gobble it up and score a splendid try.

“Nah, we have never worked on that. I dunno, he’s pretty good at picking his moments. He’s one of the best players in the world in terms of his support play. You sort of see where he came from in reading that play.”

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