There are five changes to the Crusaders starting XV for Saturday night’s Rebel Sport Super 14 semi-final against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium.
Up front, prop Wyatt Crockett (pictured) and blindside flanker Kieran Read are recalled, coming in for Ben Franks and Reuben Thorne respectively.
In the backs, winger Scott Hamilton returns, while the Crusaders will also field a changed midfield combination, with centre Casey Laulala and second-five-eighths Tim Bateman taking over from Caleb Ralph and Stephen Brett respectively.
Brett, winger Sean Maitland, Thorne and Franks all feature on the bench, while Ralph has been omitted from the match day squad.
The CRFU announced that Crusaders coach Robbie Deans says the changes to the starting XV which lost 14-26 to the Highlanders last weekend were performance-related, with this representing the strongest combination his side could field for the sudden death match.
Hamilton has fond memories of a previous semi-final against Saturday night’s opposition. He scored three tries during a crushing 47-7 win over the Hurricanes at the same venue at the same stage of the 2005 championship.
Deans says the Glenmark back’s greater experience gave him the nod ahead of the 19-year-old counterpart Maitland.
Hamilton last appeared on the 13th Crusade as a replacement during the 26-22 over the Blues on Anzac Day. He has maintained his match fitness in the time since by being involved with his club.
Laulala was always scheduled to return, after being allowed to start from the bench against the Highlanders due to a knock he had sustained late the previous week against the Queensland Reds.
He will be partnered by Bateman, who had performed strongly starting in the second-five-eighths position during the seven matches prior to last weekend, where he came from the bench.
After returning from an injury-enforced five-week break last weekend, Thorne has given way to Read, who will be playing his 28th match in succession for the Crusaders since his debut against the Blues last term.
“We needed to get Reuben started again after his injury, and last weekend gave us the opportunity to do that, but Kieran offers us greater match fitness and is the incumbent, which is why he is starting,” Deans says.
“The match will be intense so all of the players can expect to be involved at some stage.”
The other change to the starting XV is in the front row where Crockett, who was the Crusaders’ internal Player of the Day two weeks ago in the win against the Reds, swaps places with Franks.
Crockett is the only player among the run on XV named today, who did not start when the Crusaders edged out the Hurricanes 20-13 at Wellington during their preliminary round meeting on March 28.
While last weekend’s loss to the Highlanders – which was just the Crusaders’ second of the campaign, and only the second defeat in the last 32 home matches – was a surprise to many, Deans insists his side isn’t dwelling on that setback.
“We’re not looking back,” he says. “We’ll take on board the lessons that are to be learned from the experience. Last week was the end of that phase of the competition – the quest to make the playoffs. We start a new and exciting phase at 7.35pm on Saturday night and it is 0-0. Nothing that has gone before really matters now!”
This includes the Hurricanes’ recent run of outs against the Crusaders, with Deans noting wryly that the Highlanders boasted a similarly poor record in recent times against his side, prior to last weekend.
It is hoped the all-New Zealand semi-final will be played in front of a capacity crowd of 25,600 at AMI Stadium, which is currently being renovated ahead of the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The Crusaders team to play the Hurricanes in the Rebel Sport Super 14 semi-final at AMI Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday May 24, kick-off 7.35pm (09:35 SA time) is:
15. Leon MacDonald (Canterbury)
14. Kade Poki (Tasman)
13. Casey Laulala (Canterbury)
12. Tim Bateman (Canterbury)
11. Scott Hamilton (Canterbury)
10. Daniel Carter (Canterbury)
9. Andrew Ellis (Canterbury)
8. Mose Tuiali’i (Canterbury)
7. Richard McCaw (Canterbury, captain)
6. Kieran Read (Canterbury)
5. Ali Williams (Tasman)
4. Brad Thorn (Tasman)
3. Greg Somerville (Canterbury)
2. Corey Flynn (Canterbury)
1. Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury)
Run on reserves:
16. Ti’i Paulo (Canterbury)
17. Ben Franks (Tasman)
18. Reuben Thorne (Canterbury)
19. Nasi Manu (Canterbury)
20. Kahn Fotuali’i (Tasman)
21. Stephen Brett (Canterbury)
22. Sean Maitland (Canterbury)