Bad break for Crusaders: Barrett out of action

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett. Photo: Getty Images
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett. Photo: Getty Images
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett has been ruled out for six weeks due to a fractured finger, sustained in the lead-up to the team's clash with the Fiji Drua last weekend. 

It is the latest setback for the defending Super Rugby champions, as they grapple with mounting injuries to key personnel and growing pressure amid a three-game winless start to their campaign.

Now back in Christchurch, the unbeaten Hurricanes await.

Barrett joins fellow internationals Will Jordan and Ethan Blackadder on the sideline.

This is on top of an exodus of other key exponents including Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo'unga, Jack Goodhue and Leicester Fainganuku offshore, and hooker Codie Taylor's sabbatical.

First-five Fergus Burke, who was set to take the reins from the departed Mo'unga, is also in the casualty ward.

Coach Rob Penney put on a brave face before Wednesday's training hitout, trying to remain philosophical and upbeat ahead of a must-win clash on Friday.

"Nothing's changed, the weight of expectation was there before we kicked off round one.

"Long that may continue - because it keeps you razor sharp."

Immediately following this comment, Penney breezily acknowledged the "Freudian" reference to his coaching predecessor Scott Robertson, when responding to questions about "the pressure", much to the amusement of media gathered.

But the injury to Barrett is no laughing matter.

Penney said his captain would be sorely missed. 

"His on-field performances are world-class every week, he goes to deep to that well.

"We knew we had some positions of vulnerability going into the comp and unfortunately those are the positions where we've been hammered a bit.

"The beauty of this organisation is that we've got a reasonably deep well and we've got to have faith in the boys that are coming through."

It has been somewhat of a baptism of fire for Penney during the first few weeks of the competition.

Three opening round defeats to the Chiefs, Waratahs and the Drua has subjected the team to their worst start since Super Rugby's inaugural year in 1996 - in other words, the dark old days.

Before they became the most dominant force in the history of Super Rugby, the franchise's initial entry was meagre.

The Crusaders notched two wins in total during the '96 campaign, which left the side at the foot of the ladder following an 11-week round robin.

A similar unholy run for the 12-time champions this season, remains an audacious prediction.

But a return to home turf cannot come soon enough ahead of a pivotal and potentially testing period.

Friday's home meeting with the Hurricanes, will be followed by a trip to Eden Park to face the Blues before a return bout with the Chiefs at the end of March. 

The team has never dropped four games on the bounce.

"O and three isn't pretty, and there's some pretty disappointing images in that," Penney said.

"We're looking forward to being back at home, it's been quite a tough travel programme we've had, but that's part of the competition. It's no excuse.

"Hopefully, we can get a good crowd and the people can come and support us - because the boys need a bit of love at the moment."

Penney offered reflections on the physical difficulties facing the team during their 20-10 defeat to the Drua in Lautoka last Saturday.

It was the second straight loss to the Fijian outfit at Churchill Park, a road trip which continues to trouble the red and blacks.

"[The Drua game] was a bit unique. We had the boys in the changing room, almost half-a-dozen, moments away from needing ambulances."