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Halfback woes for Canterbury

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

The unheralded George, who played his rugby in Otago last year, was not in the Canterbury squad but with All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis, Crusaders Willie Heinz and third-string Takerei Norton all on the injured list, George gets an unexpected start.

Ellis, who fractured a bone in his big toe in the Crusaders semi-finals loss to the Bulls last May, has been named in the reserves after Heinz, who played against Hawkes Bay last Friday, fractured a bone in his left hand in that drawn game.

Norton, who suffered a pre-season hamstring injury, was to have made his debut but went down at training on Tuesday causing head coach Rob Penney to make a late change. Ellis has been named on the bench although Penney admitted they would like to have given him more time to recover fully from his injury.

Apart from the halfback dilemma, Canterbury has Nasi Manu, Adam Whitelock, Sonny Bill Williams, Patrick Osborne and Ryan Crotty on the casualty list.

Crusaders centre Robbie Fruean, whose season was threatened after he suffered an irregular heart beat last week, has received a medical clearance and is among the reserves.

"We've got a lot of little injuries and it's not easy, but you have to put faith in the people you've selected around them to do the job," Penney said after Canterbury’s training on Tuesday.

"Matt George came here this season after doing a teaching degree in Dunedin and he did a really good job playing for Lincoln University. On the back of that he's been recognised and is getting an opportunity."

While the backline has three new players – George, and wings Sam Monaghan and Telusa Veainu – from that which opposed Hawke's Bay, the forward pack remains the same.

Penney said two areas Canterbury needed to improve on from the Hawke's Bay game were its finishing and at the breakdowns.

"We have to look at how we treat the breakdowns – there was just a bit of inconsistency in the way that was handled last week. But we created a lot of opportunities which we didn't finish so we've talked about capitalising on those."

Penney said he was impressed with how Manawatu finished its match against Ranfurly Shield holder Southland in Round 1.

"They were all over Southland in the last quarter and created a couple of tries."

Although Canterbury racked up 50 points against the Turbos last year, Penney would not have forgotten that Manawatu beat Canterbury in Christchurch the previous season.