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Crusaders swap one promising loose forward for another as Rebels clash looms

By Tom Vinicombe
Ethan Blackadder supports ball-carrier Cullen Grace. (Photo by AAP Image/Darren England)

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Such is the depth the Crusaders have at their disposal that the loss of an All Blacks loose forward shouldn’t considerably weaken the forward pack they’re able to field against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday evening.

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While Cullen Grace will sit out this weekend after picking up a hip injury against the Western Force, the Crusaders can at least welcome back into the fold the highly promising Ethan Blackadder, who’s been sidelined due to concussion for the past two matches.

Whetukamokamo Douglas, who played on the blindside flank last week, will slot in at number 8 in Grace’s absence with Blackadder wearing No 6.

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There are six further changes to the Crusaders lineup for their final match of the regular season, with a host of experienced All Blacks returning to the fold and one, Codie Taylor, being sidelined thanks to All Blacks rest protocols.

In the front row, George Bower and fit-again hooker Brodie McAlister take over from Tamaiti Williams and Taylor. Taylor has featured in every other match this year and started in every game except the Crusaders’ loss to the Chiefs during Super Rugby Aotearoa.

The only other change to the forwards sees Samuel Whitelock return in the second row with Mitch Dunshea dropping to the bench.

In the backs, Mitchell Drummond and Richie Mo’unga will combine in the halves in place of Bryn Hall and Fergus Burke. Hall will play from the reserves this weekend while Burke won’t feature against the Rebels after making his first-ever Super Rugby start against the Force last week.

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All Blacks wing Sevu Reece also joins the starting lineup in place of Manasa Mataele who will suit up in the No 23 jersey.

The Crusaders, currently in third place on the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman ladder but only behind the second-placed Highlanders on points differential, will be looking for a big win to give themselves the best possible chance of making the grand final.

By the time their match rolls around on Saturday – the fourth game of the round – they’ll be well aware of what kind of points total they need to record if they’re to slip ahead of the Highlanders or the top-ranking Blues.

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“The equation is pretty simple for us, we’ll know what we need to do come Saturday afternoon in Sydney,” head coach Scott Robertson said.

“It’s definitely been a finals mindset for us this week, and we just need to get over there and do what is required to earn ourselves another week together.”

The match kicks off at 2:35pm AEST (4:35pm NZT) from Leichhardt Oval in New South Wales.

Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Richie Mo’unga, Mitchell Drummond, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Brodie McAlister, George Bower. Reserves: Nathan Vella, Tamaiti Williams, Oli Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Tom Sanders, Bryn Hall, Dallas McLeod, Manasa Mataele.

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Crusaders swap one promising loose forward for another as Rebels clash looms

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