Four new Crusaders for Chiefs
Coach Todd Blackadder has named four Crusader debutants in the match-day squad to face the Chiefs in their Super Rugby opener in Christchurch on Friday.
Loosehead prop Tim Perry, who played his first Super Rugby game last year for the Blues, will make his first start for the Crusaders in the No.1 jersey. Midfielder Rey Lee-Lo is another player who made his Super Rugby debut last year (for the Hurricanes) but will run out for the Crusaders for the first time on Friday.
New Zealand Sevens player, Nafi Tuitavake, was named in the Crusaders' wider training group for this year but has impressed enough during the pre-season to make his Super Rugby debut on the wing on Friday night. He will be supported by fellow back and wider training group member Rob Thompson in the reserves.
Blackadder says these players have been rewarded for their efforts during the pre-season and he is confident they are up to the task.
"We made it clear to players from the outset that our pre-season games would be viewed as trial matches. We thought it was important to start with a clean slate, put all players on an even footing and ask them to prove themselves before the season started. These players did that," Blackadder said.
Perry will be joined in the front row by seasoned Crusaders Corey Flynn and Owen Franks. All Black locks Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird make up the locking combination, with fellow All Black Luke Romano as cover. Richie McCaw will captain the team and play at openside flank, with brothers George and Luke Whitelock making up the loose forward trio, with Kieran Read still working his way back to full fitness.
In the backs, Andy Ellis starts at scrumhalf and Tyler Bleyendaal gets the nod at flyhalf with Dan Carter on sabbatical. Ryan Crotty will join Lee-Lo in the midfield and will also be vice-captain. Johnny McNicholl on the wing and Israel Dagg at fullback complete the backline.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Reynold Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Samuel Whitelock, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Tim Perry.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Rob Thompson.
Date: Friday, February 21
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Mike Lash (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)