Dagg to have knee operation

Sending Israel Dagg off for a knee operation before the autumn leaves decorate Christchurch's avenues is far from ideal.

An MRI scan has revealed what the Crusaders feared after watching the in-form Dagg hobble off Suncorp Stadium during their dramatic 22-20 win over the Reds in Brisbane last weekend.

Dagg, it has been confirmed, will be unavailable for approximately six weeks. He has what is known in medical circles as a PCL and lateral meniscal injury, and a specialist says a small operation is required.

That means the All Blacks fullback/wing is unlikely to be sighted until around the round 10 Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on April 30.

Which is reasonably good news if you are All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, because it gives Dagg around a month to prove he deserves to be picked for the series against the British and Irish Lions.

It's not so great for Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who doesn't have the luxury of waiting for the winter before getting stuck into his work.

All Robertson can do is eye-up his growing injury toll, and utter that time-honoured rugby mantra of about how important it is to get on with the next job and not bogged down with 'what ifs?".

That list of broken players is growing at an alarming rate for the Crusaders.

Left wing Seta Tamanivalu suffered a hamstring injury against the Reds, and will be unavailable for around four weeks, while ex-Wallabies flyer Digby Ioane can't be picked for the game against the Blues at AMI Stadium on Friday night because of a hand injury.

Openside flanker Matt Todd, who missed the trip to Brisbane because of a calf strain, is again left out and it will be another six weeks before first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga, who broke his hand in the first round game against the Brumbies, can be considered.

The Blues, who surely won't fumble the ball as much as when they lost 16-12 loss in that miserable game against the Highlanders last weekend, have a rotten record in Christchurch; they haven't won there since 2003, but will take some confidence from the fact they will face a side missing Dagg, Tamanivalu, Ioane and Todd.

"These derby matches are pretty extreme," Robertson noted. "It is test match-level stuff you can see the injury rates that come out of them and the attrition. The boys come off shattered."

Robertson will hope for two things. That his side can extend their unbeaten record to four, and that his list of wounded remains capped.

He described the game as a "hell of an occasion", and for halfback Bryn Hall, who has been named to start after being used as a replacement for Mitchell Drummond against the Reds, there can be no understating how big it is.

Hall left the Blues when Coach Tana Umaga recruited Augustine Pulu last year.

"Bryn deserves his start through his performance last week," Robertson said. "It's always nice to play against your old team. We have a number of good halfbacks … Bryn deserves it and it is obviously pretty special to him after being in the Blues for a long period of time, but he is truly a Crusader now."

David Havili returns from injury to start at fullback, and Manasa Mataele has been awarded his uncle Tamanivalu's No 14 jersey. George Bridge fills the vacancy on the left wing.

Jed Brown and Jordan Taufua return to the back row, and All Blacks tighthead prop Owen Franks, who was rested last week, will strengthen the scrum.

Crusaders: David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Mitchell Hunt, Bryn Hall, Whetu Douglas, Jed Brown, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Mitchell Drummond, Marty McKenzie, Sean Wainui.


Photo: GETTY IMAGES (Israel Dagg, right, will require an operation on his right knee after suffering an injury in the Crusaders' 22-20 win over the Reds last weekend).