The return of Sam Whitelock, absence of Scott Barrett and appointment of Codie Taylor as captain for the day garnered the most talk when the Crusaders announced their side for Sunday’s clash with the Hurricanes, but it’s David Havili’s presence on the bench that is perhaps the most significant.

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Havili underwent surgery in early March to remove 20cm of his bowel due to a serious infection. A 10-week recovery time was set which would have put Havili out for most of the remainder of the Super Rugby season, were it not suspended due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to Havili’s surgery, he was one of the Crusaders’ outstanding performers, lighting up the park from fullback, the midfield and even first five.

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Now, Havili is set to return to play at the same time as his Crusaders teammates, and will take the park wearing the 22 jersey.

“I have huge respect to Dave for his determination and athleticism to see the nick he is in for the position he was in health-wise a few months ago,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said of his returning utility. “It was touch and go there for a while and now he’s playing rugby.

“He can cover multiple positions and he’s a real leader in our group.”

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Havili’s early-season form had many crying for an All Blacks recall. Havili made his All Blacks debut in the 2017 Rugby Championship and went on to make four further appearances for New Zealand in that year but wasn’t required for international duty in 2018 or 2019.

With Ben Smith now based overseas, there could be room for someone like Havili in the national set-up – though he’ll face fierce competition from a number of other players around the country also vying for a spot in the All Blacks.

Were it not for the suspended season, Havili would likely have had to rule out his international ambitions for at least the mid-year test matches but the 25-year-old could now have a second shot at earning a call-up.

Havili wore the 10 jersey for the Crusaders’ inter-squad hit-out last weekend and could well slot into that role during Sunday’s match after being selected ahead of the likes of Brett Cameron and Fergus Burke to play at first five against the Chiefs earlier this year.

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Ahead of Sunday’s game, Robertson is expecting a physical encounter with the Hurricanes, who were well-beaten by the Blues in round one of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

“They are desperate straight away aren’t they, after a loss,” he said. “It’s a short sharp sprint this and it just shows that teams are winning at home and home games are really important. To win away is a big task, they will be protecting their patch and we’re excited to get up there.”

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