Super Rugby Pacific: All Blacks loose forward Ethan Blackadder returns to bolster Crusaders revival

Ethan Blackadder in action at the Rugby World Cup.
Ethan Blackadder in action at the Rugby World Cup. Photo credit: Photosport

After finally bringing up their first win of the Super Rugby Pacific season, the Crusaders are taking a "tempered" approach to re-introducing All Blacks loose forward Ethan Blackadder, naming him to start in their squad to face NSW Waratahs on Friday.

The hard-charging flanker has been one of several core players missing from the champion line-up through the opening two months of the competition, as he rehabs yet another of the injuries that have plagued him through his career, this time a calf niggle.

Previously, Blackadder has charged out of the gates from any injury setback, with then-coach Scott Robertson describing him as a "caged bull" when he returned last season, but current Crusaders coach Rob Penney admits they're trying to curb his enthusiasm this time.

"We all know the qualities of Ethan," said Penney. "He's a tremendous player and adds a lot of spark around the group as well.

"We're rapt to have him back and hopefully now he can have a long run.  I think he's someone that's a bit tempered... he's obviously had some disappointments over the past 12 months with recurring injury, so I think he's trying to manage himself."

Blackadder, 29, broke into the All Blacks in 2021, but has managed only 10 tests since then, mainly due to injury. He missed the entire 2022 season with a dislocated shoulder during Super Rugby, and calf and quad injuries saw him miss most of last season.

As the All Blacks team for the Rugby World Cup was named, he suffered a calf twinge that saw him miss initial selection, but he was eventually called in a replacement for injured winger Emoni Narawa.

That same calf complaint has lingered into the new campaign.

"We've been ultra-cautious," confirmed Penney. "He's been really diligent, the medical staff have been really diligent... we'll just have to wait and see where that leads.

Ethan Blackadder in action for the Crusaders.
Ethan Blackadder in action for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Photosport

"He's a mature athlete, he knows his body really well. He's been more aware of that than anyone - the last thing he wants to have happen is another setback.

"He's been really mindful of where he's at and the progression he needs to take to get himself in the right place. I think everyone's done a great job and it's now let's see what happens in the battle,

"Hopefully, it'll progress to a repeat effort and another repeat effort and another repeat effort..."

The injury news isn't as good elswhere for the Crusaders, who also have loose forward Christian Lio-Willie back, but will have to wait a little longer for first-five Fergus Burke, who has now tweaked his calf, after recovering from an Achilles strain.

Join Newshub at 9:30pm for live updates of the Crusaders v Waratahs Super Rugby Pacific clash