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Richie Mo'unga and Codie Taylor available for Crusaders against Moana Pasifika

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

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Crusaders stars Richie Mo’unga and Codie Tayor will both be available for selection this weekend when their side face Moana Pasifika this weekend.

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Neither of the two All Blacks have featured for the Crusaders in the opening two rounds of Super Rugby Pacific, with both players remaining in Christchurch while the side travelled to Queenstown for New Zealand Rugby’s two-week Covid bubble.

However, Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen confirmed on Monday that Mo’unga and Taylor will both be available to face Moana Pasifika in Christchurch this Friday.

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“They’ve come in, they’ve trained really well. They’re absolutely class players. They’ve got a huge part and role within the Crusaders environments, and we expect them to be at their best straight up,” he said.

The likely return of both players may spell the end of Fergus Burke’s and Brodie McAlister’s season-opening runs as the team’s starting first-five and hooker, respectively, but it will provide the Crusaders with significant experience and class.

Scott Robertson’s men might need both of those elements from Mo’unga and Taylor this week as Hansen hinted that the Moana Pasifika clash looms as a chance to rest and rotate players within his squad.

“We’ll pick a team this week that we feel will do a job. They’ll be a hungry team that we’re excited for, and there’ll be the possibility of some new guys and some new Crusaders getting out this weekend,” Hansen said.

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“Again, the team will be named during the week, but we’re excited for them to get out and influence around our team.”

With a near-clean bill of health, the Crusaders selectors will almost have a full squad to pick from, and, based on Hansen’s comments, there are some who could make their first Super Rugby appearances of the year, or in their career.

New recruit and three-test All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi headlines the list of players who haven’t taken to the field for the Crusaders thus far in 2022 after finding himself behind Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond in the No 9 jersey.

Chay Fihaki and ex-Chiefs flyer Kini Naholo may also come into contention in the outside backs, as could Dallas McLeod and Isaiah Punivai in the midfield.

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In the pack, lock Zach Gallagher and loose forward Dominic Gardiner might be line to make their Super Rugby debuts after hooker Shilo Klein and flanker Corey Kellow achieved that feat over the past two weeks.

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Others forwards who are yet to have played after missing selection for their season-opening victories over the Hurricanes and Highlanders include flanker Sione Havili Talitui and props Finlay Brewis and Fletcher Newell.

Hansen didn’t provide an update on the fitness status of injured All Blacks flanker Ethan Blackadder, who Robertson said would be ready for action in “two to three weeks” more than a fortnight ago.

Hansen did, however, note that hosting Moana Pasifika in their first match of the year to be played in Christchurch is an exciting prospect for the Crusaders.

Alongside the Fijian Drua, Moana Pasifika are one of two competition newcomers this season and will make their Super Rugby Pacific debut this weekend after missing the first two rounds due to a Covid outbreak in their squad.

Hansen said preparation for Friday’s match is already underway, with the only analysis the Crusaders are able to conduct on Moana Pasifika being their 61-7 pre-season thumping at the hands of the Chiefs in Auckland earlier this month.

“We know it’s going to be a fantastic occasion for Super Rugby. We’re welcoming in our Pasifika brothers,” Hansen said.

“We understand that they’ve had a lot of challenges recently, but they’ll be coming into this game with a fantastic mindset around creating momentum through their big ball carriers, playing their special brand of rugby, and we’re excited to put our game against theirs.”

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