The Crusaders will welcome the return of veteran lock Sam Whitelock to their starting team for this weekend’s clash against the Blues in Christchurch.
Whitelock was rested from last week’s side that lost 26-25 to the Chiefs in Hamilton, but the 122-test All Black has returned to the starting lineup ahead of this week’s match that could see the Crusaders secure a home Super Rugby Aotearoa final.
The 32-year-old will be joined by captain Scott Barrett, who started at blindside flanker last week, in a new-look second row after Quinten Strange and Mitchell Dunshea were handed rare starts as lock partners at FMG Stadium Waikato.
Barrett’s place on the side of the scrum will be taken by Ethan Blackadder, who switches back to the No. 6 jersey after starting at No. 8 last week, while Sione Havili Talitui replaces Tom Sanders at openside flanker.
One-test All Blacks utility forward Cullen Grace, meanwhile, fills the void left by Blackadder at the back of the scrum after missing out on playing in the loss to the Chiefs.
Up front, vice-captain Codie Taylor swaps back into the starting side for Brodie McAlister after featuring off the bench last week.
The backline remains unchanged as Mitchell Drummond, Richie Mo’unga, George Bridge, vice-captain David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Sevu Reece and Will Jordan have retained their places from No. 9 to No. 15.
On the bench, rookie prop Tamaiti Williams is in line to make his first-ever appearance for the Crusaders as he takes the No. 17 jersey in place of Isileli Tuungafasi.
The 21-year-old is one of four new faces – along with McAlister, Dunshea and Sanders – in the reserves.
The Crusaders, who have a bye next week’s final round of the regular season, currently lead Super Rugby Aotearoa by seven points with two rounds to play and already have a place in the final secured.
The Christchurch-based side will win the hosting rights for the May 8 grand finale if they defeat the third-placed Blues, who are one point shy of moving into a final berth.
Kick-off for Sunday’s match at Orangetheory Stadium is scheduled for 3:35pm NZT.
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