Winger Scott Hamilton and props Greg ‘Yoda’ Somerville and Ben Franks have returned to the Crusaders starting line-up for Sunday evening’s Rebel Sport Super 14 tie against the Western Force in Perth.
The CRFU reports that Hamilton resumes after heading back to New Zealand following the 54-19 win over the Bulls two weeks ago due to a personal circumstance.
He slots into the side taking over from the two 20-year-olds, Kade Poki and Sean Maitland. Poki has been sidelined by the hamstring strain he sustained in the warm up before last week’s match in Cape Town and is unavailable for selection.
Maitland drops back to the bench, after scoring his maiden Super rugby try standing in for Poki during the Crusaders’ third consecutive competition win.
Hamilton rejoined the Crusaders when the side arrived in Australia on Tuesday, and will feature alongside Somerville and Franks, who had lighter roles during last Friday’s 22-0 shut-out of the Stormers in Cape Town.
Somerville started from the bench at Newlands and was not required until the last 20 minutes of the contest. After starting in each of the Crusaders’ first two wins, Franks was allowed to miss that fixture as Crusaders coaches Robbie Deans and Mark Hammett spread the work load amongst the squad’s front rowers.
“We were very happy with what the two props who started last week [Wyatt Crockett and Campbell Johnstone] contributed, but, before then, Ben and Greg had been playing well too,” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans said.
“There has been strong competition for places throughout the team. The front row is just one playing unit within the group which highlights that.”
The Crusaders created history last weekend in Cape Town, holding the Stormers scoreless for the first time in their existence while completing just the franchise’s third unbeaten tour of South Africa – and the first in six seasons.
That success has placed the side second on the log, just a point behind the pace-setting Blues, and five ahead of the Force, who share fourth position. The Australians have stitched together consecutive wins over the Cheetahs (16-15) and the Lions (18-16) following their narrow first-up loss to the Sharks (10-17).
Matches played on Australian soil have not always been kind to the Crusaders.
This will be the franchise’s 24th in Australia since Super rugby began in 1996. Just 10 of the previous 23 were won.
The Crusaders inaugural game in Western Australia two years ago ended in a 23-23 draw, with the visitors being forced to rally from 8-20 astern at halftime in front of an excited crowd in excess of 30,000.
An even bigger gathering is expected at Subiaco Oval for the re-match, with nearly 32,000 tickets sold.
The Force has the travel advantage for this contest, having returned from South Africa on Sunday, while the Crusaders didn’t relocate from their Cape Town base until two days later. Both teams played their most recent matches last Friday night.
Although this is just their third meeting in Super rugby, the Crusaders and Force have also squared off on three previous occasions in pre-season trials. The Australians are yet to experience success in the rivalry.
Even so, the Western Australians have proved themselves competitive since joining Super 14 three seasons ago.
Last year, the Force fashioned an impressive home record, winning four of seven, which included victory over the eventual finalists, the Sharks.
John Mitchell’s team has also shown an ability to go with any opposition, as evidenced by the fact that 12 of the Force’s 29 Super rugby matches to date have been decided by margins of a converted try or less, including all three games played this season – while they have also had two draws.
“They raise the bar when they are asked too, and this is especially the case when they are playing at home. That makes them a very difficult opponent,” Deans says.
The Crusaders have already experienced the Force’s stick-ability this year, having to come from behind to win a pre-season trial 12-7 in Melbourne last month.
Although the Crusaders depart for home after the match, jetting out of Perth at midnight, Deans says they will be working hard to make sure the travel plans don’t become a distraction.
“Concentration on the task at hand will be vital,” he says.
“We have already achieved something on this trip – in terms of coming through South Africa unbeaten – that hasn’t been done by the Crusaders in a while [since 2002]. Sunday provides us with the chance to do something we have never done before – by winning a game in Perth. We are not going to be able to achieve that unless we ignore all peripheral issues and focus totally on the task at hand.”
The Crusaders side to play the Western Force in the Rebel Sport Super 14 match at Subiaco in Perth on Sunday March 9 is:
Starting XV: 15. Leon MacDonald, 14. Scott Hamilton, 13. Casey Laulala, 12. Stephen Brett, 11. Caleb Ralph, 10. Daniel Carter, 9. Andrew Ellis, 8. Mose Tuiali’i, 7. Richard McCaw (captain), 6. Kieran Read, 5. Ali Williams, 4. Brad Thorn, 3. Greg Somerville, 2. Corey Flynn, 1. Ben Franks
Run on reserves:16. Ti’i Paulo, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Reuben Thorne, 19. Nasi Manu, 20. Kahn Fotuali’i, 21. Tim Bateman, 22. Sean Maitland.