Stephen Brett could not have timed his return better as the Crusaders’ unbeaten run in the Super 14 series goes on the line against the Chiefs on Friday.
Brett was on Wednesday named in the starting XV for the first time in a month after a cameo 10-minute appearance off the bench in the 31-6 win over the Lions last weekend.
He had been placed on the inactive list because of a shoulder injury and during his sideline spell the Crusaders also lost key flyhalf Dan Carter to injury.
In their place Hamish Gard wore the No 10 jersey against the Lions, but those duties now fall to the mercurial Brett.
He is relishing the prospect of taking on the Chiefs in Hamilton in what promises to be an intriguing match against the runaway competition leaders and a Chiefs side with a certain strut in their step after successive victories over the Bulls, Highlanders and Brumbies.
With the prospect of a damp ground after the drought broke over the Waikato region this week, Brett’s tactical kicking will be of great importance to his team.
The Chiefs boast a quality back three in fullback Mils Muliaina and wings Lelia Masaga and Sitiveni Sivivatu, who like nothing more than running back wayward kicks.
Brett knows he must be accurate in all he does otherwise that terrific trio could cause the Crusaders plenty of headaches.
“The kick-chase will be very vital,” he said.
“If we don’t get it right you could well see them breaking through us.
“Pinpoint accuracy will be needed. I’ll have to figure out where the spaces are and where the back three are.
“It’ll be a matter of trying to get them in one-on-one situations.” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans acknowledged the threat posed by the Chiefs by wheeling out his heavy artillery for the game.
Deans made four personnel and seven positional changes, naming all of his available top players after fielding a number of second stringers against the Lions.
As well as Brett’s return, Brad Thorn has overcome a calf injury to take his place at lock while regular captain Richie McCaw returns on the openside flank.
McCaw, Ross Filipo, Kade Poki and Kahn Fotuali’i have all been reintroduced to the squad after missing the win over the Lions, replacing George Whitelock, Michael Paterson, Reuben Thorne and Steve Alfeld respectively.
Wing Poki and scrumhalf Fotuali’i were stood down from the playing 22 last week after missing a training session during the bye week.
The Chiefs will unquestionably be a major step up compared to the Lions, a factor readily acknowledged by Deans.
“They have some dangerous strike players and the ability to score tries from anywhere on the park, especially from turnover, so concentration, discipline and accuracy is going to be vital,” he said Wednesday.
“They’re confident, they’re playing well and they’ll have a big crowd behind them.”
Chiefs coach Ian Foster had the luxury of naming an unchanged 15 from their last outings against the Highlanders and Brumbies.
The only change is on the reserves bench where utility back Sosene Anesi returns to the frame after recovering from an ankle injury, leaving wing Viliame Waqaseduadua out of the starting 22.
“It was a logical change to go with Sosene instead of Vili as Sosene gives us cover at both fullback and wing,” Foster said.
Mils Muliaina (captain), Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Callum Bruce, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Sione Lauaki, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Kevin O’Neill, Toby Lynn, Ben Castle, Tom Willis, Simms Davison.
Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, Ben May, Jay Williams, Faifili Levave, Jamie Nutbrown, Dwayne Sweeney, Sosene Anesi.
Crusaders: Scott Hamilton, Sean Maitland, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Caleb Ralph, Stephen Brett, Andrew Ellis, Mose Tuiali’i, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks.
Reserves: Ti’i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett, Ross Filipo, Nasi Manu, Kahn Fotuali’i, Hamish Gard, Kade Poki.Tweet