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Three All Blacks return as Crusaders roll changes for Moana Pasifika

By Tom Vinicombe
Ethan Blackadder. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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Three All Blacks will make their first appearances for the Crusaders this season when the competition-leaders take on new side Moana Pasifika on Friday night.

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Ethan Blackadder, Codie Taylor and Richie Mo’unga are all set to take the field this weekend with Blackadder one of 10 personnel changed named to the run-on side.

Brodie McAlister and Oli Jager retain their spots from the Crusaders’ opening two wins of the competition at hooker and tighthead prop respectively while George Bower earns his first start of the season in place of Joe Moody, who gets a rest from the 23.

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Mitch Dunshea and Quinten Strange take over from Scott Barrett and Sam Whitelock in the second row with Strange taking over as captain for the match.

In the loose forwards, Argentina’s Pablo Matera shifts from the blindside flank to number 8 with Blackadder slotting into Matera’s vacated role on the side of the scrum. Tom Christie will make his third start of the season at No 7.

Former Chief Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi will earn his first minutes for the Crusaders against Moana Pasifika and has been named alongside Simon Hickey in the halves.

Leicester Fainga’anuku has been moved from the wing to the midfield for Friday night’s clash and will line up alongside Dallas McLeod, who made three starts and nine appearances off the bench last year for the Super Rugby Aotearoa champions.

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In the outside backs, Kini Naholo will earn his first Crusaders cap on the left wing with George Bridge manning the right and Chay Fihaki named at fullback.

Taylor, Tamaiti Williams and Fletcher Newell provide front-row cover on the bench with lock Dominic Gardiner set for his Super Rugby debut and Corey Kellow on hand to back up after last week’s inaugural appearance in the red and black.

Bryn Hall, Mo’unga and another debutant in the form of Isaiah Punivai will cover the backs.

“It’s always good to use the squad and give everyone that’s trained extremely hard that opportunity,” head coach Scott Robertson said of the mass changes. “We’ve got some excited boys.”

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Moana Pasifika have yet to play a competition match this year after Covid forced the postponement of their two opening fixtures.  That means they have not played against outside opposition since their first-up pre-season game against the Chiefs, which they lost 61-7.

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Despite the obvious difficulties the team have had, however, Robertson is expecting them to come out firing.

“The challenge is to really respect the players, the individual players, and probably the situation they’re in,” Roberston said. “This will be a really tight group from all the adversity they’ve been through already.

“They might be shy of a game or a hit-out but they’ll be extremely motivated. They’ve got a lot of reasons to play well. It’s the opener for them so we’ve been very respectful in our prep.

“They’ve got some quality players across the field that can rip you open. They’ll be looking forward to expressing themselves. They’ve got a lot to play for.”

Friday night’s match will kick off at 7:05pm NZT from Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Crusaders: Chay Fihaki, George Bridge, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Dallas McLeod, Kini Naholo, Simon Hickey, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Pablo Matera, Tom Christie, Ethan Blackadder, Quinten Strange, Mitch Dunshea, Oli Jager, Brodie McAlister, George Bower. Reserves: Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams, Fletcher Newell, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Bryn Hall, Richie Mo’unga, Isaiah Punivai.

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