The Stormers have received a late blow to their chances of winning their Super 12 semifinal when they heard that Justin Marshall has passed a late fitness test and will take his place in the Crusaders team.
All week it appeared that Marshall would miss out, at least this was the story being peddled by the Crusaders management and Kiwi journalists agreed that the scrumhalf’s chances of making it were minimal. The Crusaders even announced their team on Thursday without Marshall, with Jamie Nutbrown penned in to wear the No9 jersey.
However, the Crusaders website on Friday had a different team, with Marshall now down to start.
According to New Zealand sources, Marshall passed a late fitness test. It was said that Marshall’s recovery took the Crusaders management by surprise, but it begs the question: Was this all just a ruse to put off the Stormers and steal a march on their opponents?
Marshall’s return to the side strengthens the experienced backbone of the side, and while the Crusaders will miss All Black lock Chris Jack, they still have several seasoned internationals in the form of Dave Hewett, Greg Somerville, Richie McCaw, Reuben Thorne, Marshall and Aaron Mauger to call upon.
Far from looking depleted, the Crusaders team lines up on paper as a formidable unit, particularly if you consider that the Stormers have had to fly out from South Africa in the buildup week and already looked tired when they played the Sharks last week.
It is also rumoured that another experienced All Black, flyhalf Andrew Mehrtens, might play a bigger role in the game than first advertised. Mehrtens, one of modern rugby’s great match-winners, was included on the bench, but don’t bet against him joining the fray early in the piece.
Revised Crusaders team (as appears on Crusaders website): 1.David Hewett, 2. Tone Kopelani, 3. Greg Somerville, 4. Brad Thorn, 5. Ross Filipo, 6. Reuben Thorne (Captain), 7. Richard McCaw, 8. Sam Broomhall, 9. Justin Marshall, 10. Cameron McIntyre, 11. Caleb Ralph, 12. Daniel Carter, 13. Aaron Mauger, 14. Marika Vunibaka, 15. Ben Blair. Replacements: 16. Corey Flynn, 17. Chris King, 18. Scott Hamilton, 19. Johnny Leo’o, 20. Jamie Nutbrown, 21. Andrew Mehrtens, 22. Casey Laulala.