Four debutants and three returning All Blacks are features of the Crusaders side named to face Moana Pasifika this Friday in Dunedin.
Head coach Scott Robertson has confirmed a raft of changes, which will see Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Kini Naholo, Dominic Gardiner and Isaiah Punivai all don the Crusaders jersey for the first time, while Ethan Blackadder, Codie Taylor and Richie Mo’unga all return from injury and All Blacks return to play plans respectively.
In the forwards, Joe Moody, Scott Barrett, Sam Whitelock and Cullen Grace will all sit out this week’s match. George Bower steps into the starting side at loosehead prop, Mitch Dunshea and Quinten Strange are the starting locks and Blackadder’s inclusion at six sees Pablo Matera move to number eight.
As well as Tahuriorangi and Naholo, Simon Hickey, Dallas McLeod, George Bridge and Chay Fihaki have all been given an opportunity to start in the backline this week. Quinten Strange has been named as captain, while Bridge and Taylor will be vice-captains.
Scott Robertson expects debutants to step up
“We’re really honoured to welcome four new Crusaders to our club on Friday night,” said Robertson. “It’s a special week for all of our debutants and an opportunity to step up that they’ve worked extremely hard for.
“In particular, Izzy Punivai will be rewarded for the patience he’s shown since being named in the squad last year, and I’m sure the team will get around him and celebrate what is an important milestone for him and his family.
“It’s also going to be a special occasion for Moana Pasifika, and we’re really looking forward to their first game of Super Rugby. They will have bonded through the adversity they’ve faced already in this competition, so we’re expecting a passionate, spirited side to take the field on Friday night.”
Crusaders: 15 Chay Fihaki, 14 George Bridge, 13 Leicester Fainga’anuku, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Kini Naholo, 10 Simon Hickey, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Ethan Blackadder, 5 Quinten Strange (c), 4 Mitch Dunshea, 3 Oli Jager, 2 Brodie McAlister, 1 George Bower
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Fletcher Newell, 19 Dominic Gardiner, 20 Corey Kellow, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Richie Mo’unga, 23 Isaiah Punivai
Date: Friday, March 4
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Kick-off: 19:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: James Doleman (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Fraser Hannon (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Hart (New Zealand)