The Crusaders return to Orangetheory Stadium this weekend for their first home game since March, and Head Coach Scott Robertson has named an unchanged line up to take on the Chiefs.
Codie Taylor will once again Captain the side, following news earlier this week that Scott Barrett has been ruled out of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa to have surgery for a toe injury. Taylor will be supported by Vice-Captains Whetukamokamo Douglas and David Havili.
Robertson told the media morning that giving the same 23 an opportunity to play together again this week is a chance to build combinations quickly given the short 10-week competition.
"We know the nature of the competition, it is a sprint, it's short, sharp," Robertson said.
"It's really important to get off to a good start and that's what we've done with the team that played well last week and [we've] rewarded them."
Several Crusaders players are also set to turn out for their clubs this week, including Quinten Strange and Andrew Makalio, who are both returning from injury.
Crusaders team to play the Chiefs:
Meanwhile, the Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland has made several changes to the Chiefs forward pack with the welcomed return of Chiefs and All Black Captain Sam Cane. Cane is joined by fellow returnee Mitchell Brown while Taranaki hooker Bradley Slater is given the nod to start, with Samisoni Taukei’aho shifting to the bench as cover.
Brown returns from his neck injury to start, combining with Naitoa Ah Kuoi in jerseys number four and five respectively. Turnover master Lachlan Boshier shifts back to the blindside, with Cane returning on the openside in the final change to the Gallagher Chiefs forward pack.
Halfback Brad Weber will run out for his 80th game in the Chiefs jersey and will be joined by a near unchanged backline. In the only change to the Chiefs backline that faced the Blues, utility back Solomon Alaimalo will start on the right-wing in jersey number fourteen.
In the reserves, Bay of Plenty’s Mitchell Karpik returns from his back strain to cover the loose forwards. Powerful midfielder Tumua Manu also returns to the fold in jersey number twenty-three.
Gatland said the team need to deliver an improved performance.
“We were disappointed with our performance against the Blues on Saturday and we know we are better than that. We are under no illusion that this weekend will be another challenging game, the Crusaders are a sharp team and can quickly punish teams for their mistakes. We need to be alert when we are defending and sharp on attack to allow us to capitalise on any opportunities presented to us.”
Gatland welcomes the return of several key forwards.
“It is great to have the likes of Sam Cane, Mitchell Brown and Mitchell Karpik returning from injury. We know their experience and skill set will be invaluable,” finished Gatland.
Unavailable for selection:
Angus Ta’avao (quad), Tyler Ardron (hamstring)
Season ending: Atu Moli (hips), Laghlan McWhannell (knee), Luke Jacobson (hand), Michael Allardice (shoulder), Nathan Harris (shoulder), Sam McNicol (ankle).
Don't worry Joe, we would all be a bit starstruck 😉🤩 pic.twitter.com/q2RVdBWmmz— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) June 25, 2020