A Crusaders starting team featuring eight All Blacks will set out to defend their perfect 2017 record when they host the British and Irish Lions.
Coach Scott Robertson has named a squad close to full strength for the match in Christchurch on Saturday and one which shapes as an enormous challenge to the wobbling tourists.
The seven-time Super Rugby champions have played an attractive brand this season on the way to winning 14-from-14 games.
Instead of being disheartened the British & Irish Lions need to use these clashes against the Super Rugby sides to build ahead of the Tests, writes Craig Dowd.
Steve Hansen says the All Blacks squad he unveiled on Thursday was the hardest he has ever had to pick.
Like the Blues, who toppled the Lions 22-16 on Wednesday, they have access to their Test players.
Robertson has taken full advantage, naming an all-All Black tight five, including captain Sam Whitelock at lock, along with flanker Matt Todd, winger Seta Tamanivalu and fullback Israel Dagg.
Dagg starts in the No.15 jersey for the first time in 10 weeks. The veteran’s season was blighted by a knee injury sustained in round three. He returned with one appearance off the bench and one on the wing.
David Havili, who has shone brightly at fullback, shifts to second five-eighth in place of injured All Black Ryan Crotty (ribs).
Crotty was included in the New Zealand Test squad on Thursday along with two other notable Crusaders injury omissions – Test captain Kieran Read (thumb) and lock Scott Barrett.
Robertson says the Lions will only be more determined following a difficult first week of their tour, which began with a flattering win over an unheralded New Zealand provincial Barbarians team.
“This is a huge and exciting challenge for us. We are facing some of the best rugby players in the world, but we have some of the world’s best in this team too, so it will be a fantastic clash,” he said.
“No matter how it unfolds, this will be a game that the players involved will remember as one of the special moments in their careers.”
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The only changes to the team who pipped the Highlanders 25-22 last weekend is the Dagg introduction and a rotation at halfback, where Bryn Hall starts ahead of Mitchell Drummond.
Mitchell Hunt, who kicked a dramatic late dropped goal to sink the Highlanders, remains on the bench as first five-eighth cover.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Sam Whitelock (capt), Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Tim Bateman.
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