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'New' Crusaders unleashed in Highlanders

TEAM ANNOUNCEMENTS: Argentinean international Pablo Matera will make his first appearance for the Crusaders in the franchise’s pre-season Farmlands Cup clash against the Highlanders in Oamaru on Friday.

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Matera has been named at No.8 by coach Scott Robertson for the first half of his side’s clash against their South Island rivals, which will be played behind closed doors due to New Zealand’s current red light COVID setting.

The Argentine loose forward will be joined by six other players – Kini Naholo, Freedom Vahaakolo, Finlay Brewis, Shilo Klein, Antonio Shalfoon and either Josh Kaifa or Jacob Norris – in making their first outings for the Crusaders in the first half.

At least another eight players will also make their Crusaders debuts in the second half as part of an overhauled line-up that is headlined by ex-All Blacks pair Waisake Naholo and Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi.

Other newbies included in the second half team include Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Daniel Rona, Macca Springer, either Abraham Pole or Seb Calder, Simon Hickey or Lucas Cashmore and possibly both Taine Robinson and Kianu Kereru-Symes.

Plenty of attention will be fixated not only on Matera, the 80-test international, but also the Naholo brothers, both of whom have been brought into the Crusaders over the Super Rugby Pacific off-season.

Former Chiefs prospect Kini was signed on a full-time deal after exciting with Taranaki during their NPC Championship-winning campaign, while Waisake is currently training with the Crusaders as injury cover.

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Friday’s match against the Highlanders will be a particularly notable one for Waisake, who is the Dunedin-based franchise’s all-time leading try-scorer and was a crucial member of the team’s 2015 title-winning squad.

Naholo is joined by Vahaakolo, who made his Super Rugby debut with the Highlanders last year, in squaring off against their former team.

No current All Blacks have been named in the team, with midfielder Jack Goodhue also absent after having missed the entire test season due to a ruptured ACL, although one-test loose forward Cullen Grace will start the second half at No.8.

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Veteran scrumhalf Bryn Hall will captain the team in the first half before lock Quinten Strange takes over the leadership duties in the second half.

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The Highlanders are expected to reveal their team for the Farmlands Cup encounter on Thursday

Crusaders team to play the Highlanders (first half): 15 Chay Fihaki, 14 Freedom Vahaakolo, 13 Isaiah Punivai, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Kini Naholo, 10 Fergus Burke, 9 Bryn Hall (captain), 8 Pablo Matera, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Josh Kaifa/Jacob Norris, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Antonio Shalfoon, 3 Fletcher Newell/Tamaiti Williams, 2 Shilo Klein, 1 Finlay Brewis.

Crusaders team to play the Highlanders (second half): 15 Macca Springer, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Inga Finau, 12 Isaiah Punivai/Taine Robinson, 11 Daniel Rona, 10 Simon Hickey/Lucas Cashmore, 9 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Corey Kellow, 6 Dominic Gardiner, 5 Antonio Shalfoon, 4 Quinten Strange (captain), 3 Oli Jager, 2 Brodie McAlister/Kianu Kereru-Symes, 1 Abraham Pole/Seb Calder.

Date: Friday, February 4
Venue: Weston Club, Oamaru
Kick-off: 16.00 (03.00 GMT)
Referee: TBC

By Alex McLeod, RugbyPass

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