Return of All Black Sam Whitelock could help Crusaders rebound from loss to Chiefs

Return of All Black Sam Whitelock could help Crusaders rebound from loss to Chiefs

Sam Whitelock didn't ask to be anyone's saviour.

Given the way the Crusaders performed last weekend, when the Chiefs pumped them 31-10 at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch, the All Blacks test centurion can't expect to make a low-key return to the team ahead of the match against the Highlanders in Melbourne on Friday evening.

Because the worry beads in Crusaders territory have been getting a hammering from fans since that defeat; those people have become accustomed to seeing their team swing the cat o' nine tails during Super Rugby Pacific games, not being on the receiving end of such miserable treatment.

While there are doubts about No 8 Cullen Grace being fit to play in the "Super Round'' this weekend, after a shoulder injury forced him to retire in the first half against the Chiefs, the news about lock Whitelock could be brighter.

Unable to be considered for the first round of the competition because of concussion, Whitelock will be tested again on Tuesday to determine if he can be available to face the Highlanders.

Sam Whitelock could return to the Crusaders after being forced to miss the opening Super Rugby Pacific match because of concussion.

And if declared good to go, Crusaders supporters will hope he can draw on his vast experience to help bury the memories of that shellacking by the Chiefs.

"Sammy goes through a medical procedure on Tuesday and all indications show that he is going to be fine through that,'' Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen said.

"But we will have real clarity on Tuesday, with the naming on Wednesday.''

Grace, who left the field immediately after receiving a painful blow to the shoulder/clavicle area at Orangetheory Stadium, and was replaced by Christian Lio-Willie, faces a nervous wait to confirm if there's any significant damage.

"We should have more information in the coming days,'' Hansen stated. "Our medical staff will come back to us about how that looks.''

Having missed the majority of Canterbury's NPC season last year because of a fractured collarbone, the one-test All Black will be hoping for positive news.

Even with Whitelock unable to play the Chiefs, the defending champions were widely tipped to give the visitors a defeat to mull over during their journey back to Hamilton.

Instead the Crusaders were the ones left wondering what went so wrong; after leading 10-0 they fell apart, especially in the second half, as went into self-destruction mode with a poor kicking game, and almost 50 - yes, that is right 50 - missed tackles.

Codie Taylor of the Crusaders charges forward during the round one Super Rugby Pacific match against the Chiefs in Christchurch.

Hansen said the poor defensive statistics weren't a reflection on the team having a poor attitude, or not being focused.

"We pride ourselves on our attitude, and our effort. If you look at the positions the defence in, to defend for long periods at a time; the attack didn't allow the defence to be in a good position to start with. And our kicking game compromised us.''

Being "off balance'', Hansen added, meant the Chiefs were able to take control. Given the week was mired in controversy, after All Blacks coach Ian Foster complained about NZ Rugby expecting to advertise for his replacement prior to the World Cup, there was no shortage of distractions.

Hansen, though, defended his players.

"It was definitely not attitudinal. You can't ever challenge Ethan Blackadder and the team around their attitude. We just weren't good enough on the night, around looking after one another.''

Changes appear unlikely. Hansen indicated the coaches weren't going to launch into punishment-mode.

When taking into account the areas the team can improve, the number of players returning from long-term injury and that it was the first game of the year, he said it wasn't the time to go shredding the team sheet.

"Then we are going to back our roster, and what our roster looks like, is that it is going to be the best team for each week.''

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