Reuben Thorne will match Anton Oliver’s record for Super rugby longevity when he plays for the Crusaders against the Highlanders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Thorne, 33, returns from injury in place of flanker Kieran Read in one of seven starting changes from the team who came from behind to beat the Queensland Reds in Brisbane last weekend and extend their Super 14 lead.
RugbyHeaven NZ reports that the other changes clearly strengthen the team, with first-five-eighth Daniel Carter, halfback Andrew Ellis, lock Ali Williams, prop Ben Franks and hooker Corey Flynn also returning after all came off the bench to good effect in Brisbane.
There is also a change at centre, where veteran utility Caleb Ralph takes over from Casey Laulala.
It is Carter’s first start since sustaining an ankle sprain in late March.
“We haven’t looked any further ahead than this week, and what is the best combination to serve our needs against the Highlanders,” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans said on Thursday.
“The Highlanders have always been a particularly difficult opponent for us. There’s a lot of history obviously, between the two South Island regions, and the derby element has always added a bit of heat to the contest. Saturday night will be no different.”
Former All Blacks skipper Thorne will make his first appearance since he broke his knuckle while leading the Crusaders against the Lions on April 12.
It will also be his 127th game for the side, moving him level with Highlanders stalwart Oliver for the most appearances by any player for one New Zealand franchise.
Ralph, who like Thorne will leave for a Japanese club at the end of the championship, is playing the 135th match of his Super rugby career.
The former Chiefs and Blues player will be just one game behind the competition record-holder, the 136 games of ACT Brumbies great George Gregan.
Veteran winger Ralph is also just one try behind Doug Howlett’s Super rugby try-scoring record of 59.
CRUSADERS: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Caleb Ralph, 12 Stephen Brett, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richard McCaw (captain), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Reserves: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Kieran Read, 19 Nasi Manu, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Tim Bateman, 22 Casey Laulala.