Lengthy lay-off likely for David Havili

David Havili.
David Havili.
They are still winning – albeit only just in the case of their 24-20 victory over the Reds in Christchurch – but it isn't as rosy as it could be at the home of the defending champions, a feeling that may be exacerbated by the news in-form fullback and vice-captain David Havili has just had stomach surgery.

A short, two-sentence statement from the Crusaders this morning confirmed speculation that Havili, an All Black in 2017 and in with a good chance of returning to the black jersey this year, had abdominal surgery on Friday.

"His return to play timeframe has not yet been discussed, but will be advised at a later date," the statement concluded.

A lengthy lay-off is likely; an eight-week rehabilitation would see the 25-year-old return in May, several rounds before the playoffs start.

More news will presumably come out over the next few days as the Crusaders reassemble to prepare to play the Sunwolves in Brisbane on Saturday, but there are rumours the surgery was required to remove a foreign object – clearly an unfortunate state of affairs for a player whose quality and leadership were missed by his side in Addington a few hours later.

Previously this season the three-time defending champion Crusaders have had issues with finishing scoring opportunities but against the Reds, coached for former Crusaders and All Blacks legend Brad Thorn, a few more issues crept in.

Their decision making was haphazard and they were far too loose in maintaining possession. They attacked too laterally, rather than the explosive from-depth running which has characterized their strikes under coach Scott Robertson, and perhaps most worryingly of all, their defence was poor at times. Figures vary but they missed between 38 and 41 tackles.

"We know that teams come here with everything to gain," Robertson said of a Reds team missing several experienced players with injury but who attacked without hesitation.

"You're playing a championship winning team, 'here we go, let's test ourselves', and they did that."

First-five Richie Mo'unga, who had a perfect record off the tee after kicking for the first time this season since recovering from leg niggles, felt there was little wrong with his side's preparation.

"We do give them [Australian teams] credit. I don't know people's perception or if the media doesn't give them the credit that's due, but we turned up tonight expecting this and that's what we got," Mo'unga said.

"Look, there was a lot of space out there but passes didn't go to hand, a lot of balls went to ground, which created errors and we were on the back foot and gave them a lot of pill.

"I think the intent is awesome, the boys want to play. You can't stop the lads from playing footy. I just think we've got to be a bit smarter and earn the right to do it."

Not surprisingly perhaps, the loss of coach Ronan O'Gara and senior players Sam Whitelock, Matt Todd, Kieran Read, Owen Franks and Ryan Crotty is taking some getting used to.

The wins are coming but without the sort of panache of the last three years under Robertson. This may be his toughest challenge yet.

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