All Blacks duo to miss Crusaders' first three Super Rugby Pacific games

Richie Mo’unga was one of a couple of notable omissions when the Crusaders boarded their Queenstown-bound bus on Wednesday morning.

The playmaker, and fellow All Black Ethan Blackadder, remained in Christchurch and are set to miss the first three weeks of Super Rugby Pacific.

Mo’unga, who is utilising a clause in his contract to take an extended break, and Blackadder (hamstring) will miss games against the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Moana Pasifika.

As long as the Queenstown bubble isn’t extended beyond round three, the Crusaders will return to Christchurch after their game against the competition newbies in Dunedin on March 4.

“Once we come out of the bubble, he is available to play, so he will be available round four against the Chiefs [in Christchurch],” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said of Mo’unga, the Crusaders’ 2020 and 2021 player of the year.

The Crusaders have been virtually unbeatable since 2017 when Mo’unga has played, amassing a 61-5 record. When he hasn’t played, they’ve been noticeably scratchy.

Pivots Fergus Burke and Simon Hickey, who will each start a half in Saturday’s pre-season match against the Hurricanes in Arrowtown, are the team’s backup first five-eighths, while utility David Havili has also been asked to fill the void left my Mo’unga in the past.

Mo’unga, whose contract clause allowed for him to sit out up to six games, has company in Christchurch while the 39-strong group in Queenstown gets to work.

All Blacks midfielder Jack Goodhue is also among the group of players still in Christchurch. He’s not expected to return from his serious knee injury until late April.

“We've got a little hub back in Christchurch, they're training away, we've got a coach and a [strength and conditioning coach] and a physio. They've got some rugby components they can get in,” Robertson said.

As for the team’s six other healthy All Blacks, they’re available for next week’s season opener against the Hurricanes in Dunedin.

“They have been training hard. They’ve got to get their own contact...but when you’ve got a Sam Whitelock, who is a wily old, crafty player, he will get himself right,” Robertson said.