Official team lists and injury news for this week's round of Super Rugby Aotearoa.
Crusaders v Highlanders
7:05pm Friday, April 2
Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
All Blacks winger George Bridge will make his first start of the season against the Highlanders.
The Crusaders flyer has been absent through injury, but Sevu Reece makes way for Bridge to take his place for the southern derby.
Coach Scott Robertson has named a near-full strength line-up flooded with All Blacks, including captain Scott Barrett and star first-five Richie Mo'unga.
The Crusaders can all but wrap up a spot in the grand final with a bonus-point win on Friday night.
Crusaders: 1-Joe Moody, 2-Codie Taylor, 3-Michael Alaalatoa, 4-Scott Barrett (c), 5-Sam Whitelock, 6-Ethan Blackadder, 7-Sione Havili Taltui, 8-Callen Grace, 9-Mitchell Drummond, 10-Richie Mo'unga, 11-Leicester Fainga'anuku, 12-David Havilli (vc), 13-Jack Goodhue, 14-George Bridge, 15-Will Jordan
Reserves: 16-Brodie McAlister, 17-George Bower, 18-Olive Jager, 19-Mitchell Dunshea, 20-Whetukamokamo Douglas, 21-Bryn Hall, 22-Fergus Burke, 23-Sevu Reece
The Highlanders have confirmed Sione Misiloi, Josh Ioane, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Teariki Ben-Nicholas, Patelesio Tomkinson have all been stood down for disciplinary reasons.
Coach Tony Brown says the six have been axed for "breaching team code".
"There's six guys, who are unavailable through letting the team down around their standards, broke the code that we live by and it's all around their professional habits," he says.
"They just let the team down, the leaders and the whole organisation, so they won't be available for selection.
"They have to earn their right to get selected again, so we'll see how they go for the rest of the week at training and see how they go next week."
"I'm disappointed, same as the whole organisation.
"They're always sorry. We've moved on, they've moved on and we look forward to the Crusaders now."
Brown didn't elaborate on the nature of the players' actions.
Folau Fakatava returns to the line-up, with All Blacks No.9 Aaron Smith coming off the bench.
The Highlanders currently bring up the rear of the Super Rugby Aotearoa, but are only five points back from the Blues in second.
While the Crusaders pose a daunting task, a bonus-point win would see the Highlanders jump to second spot for at least 24 hours.
Meanwhile, a season-ending injury to winger Freedom Vahaakolo (fractured foot) has forced a reshuffle to the back three.
Vahaakolo, who sustained the injury at training, will be replaced by Scott Gregory playing his first game of the 2021 season.
Jona Nareki returns from injury to the left wing and Connor Garden-Bachop will get his second start at fullback. Thomas Umaga-Jensen has earned a start and will partner the experienced Michael Collins in the midfield.
Highlanders: 1-Ethan de Groot, 2-Ash Dixon (c), 3-Siate Tokolahi, 4-Bryn Evans, 5-Paripari Parkinson, 6-Shannon Frizell, 7-Billy Harmon, 8-Kazuke Himeno, 9-Folau Fakatava, 10-Mitch Hunt, 11-Jona Nareki, 12-Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 13-Michael Collins, 14-Scott Gregory, 15-Connor Garden-Bachop
Reserves: 16-Liam Coltman, 17-Ayden Johnstone, 18-Josh Hohneck, 19-Josh Dickson, 20-Hugh Renton, 21-Aaron Smith (cc), 22-Caleb Makene, 23-James Lentjes
Blues v Hurricanes
7:05pm Saturday, April 3
Eden Park, Auckland
Captain Patrick Tuipulotu will miss Saturday’s clash with the Hurricanes, ruled out with a shoulder injury
The Blues will be led by energetic loose forward Tom Robinson, with Sam Dury replacing Tuipolotu at lock for his second start of the campaign.
TJ Faine will add some much-needed bite in the midfield after back-to-back losses, replacing Harry Plummer who will come off the bench.
Sam Nock will wear the No.9 jersey with Jonathan Ruru providing cover and Finlay Christie rested.
In the pack, Karl Tu'inukuafe and Ofa Tuungafasi prop the scrum with Luteru Tolai at hooker. The loose forward trio is skipper Robinson, Dalton Papalii and Hoskins Sotutu. Akira Ioane will provide impact off the bench.
Blues: 1-Karl Tu’inukuafe, 2-Luteru Tolai, 3-Ofa Tuungafasi, 4-Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5-Sam Dury, 6-Tom Robinson (capt), 7-Dalton Papalii, 8-Hoskins Sotutu, 9-Sam Nock, 10-Otere Black, 11-Caleb Clarke, 12-TJ Faiane, 13-Rieko Ioane, 14-Mark Telea, 15-Stephen Perofeta.
Reserves: 16-Leni Apisai, 17-Alex Hodgman, 18-Nepo Laulala, 19-Josh Goodhue, 20-Akira Ioane, 21-Jonathan Ruru, 22-Harry Plummer, 23-AJ Lam
Julian Savea will return to the Hurricanes starting side, named on the right wing for Saturday's Super Rugby Aotearoa clash against the Blues.
Coach Jason Holland has made three changes to the side that earned a 30-19 victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin, with Savea joined by lock James Blackwell and prop Fraser Armstrong in the starting XV.
Fresh from their first win of the season, Holland says the Hurricanes can't afford to rest on their laurels against a wounded Blues side.
"We are excited about the challenge of heading to Eden Park in search of our second win, but we also know we'll have to keep making improvements to our overall game," Holland says.
"We have plenty to play for and we will go to Auckland with plenty of belief."
Hurricanes: 1-Fraser Armstrong, 2-Dane Coles, 3-Tyrel Lomax, 4-James Blackwell, 5-Scott Scrafton, 6-Reed Prinsep, 7-Du'Plessis Kirifi, 8-Ardie Savea (capt), 9-Luke Campbell, 10-Orbyn Leger, 11-Salesi Rayasi, 12-Ngani Laumape, 13-Billy Proctor, 14-Julian Savea, 15-Jordie Barrett
Reserves: 16-Ricky Riccitelli, 17-Xavier Numia, 18-Tevita Mafileo, 19-Isaia Walker-Leawere, 20-Devan Flanders, 21-Jonathan Taumateine, 22-Peter Umaga-Jensen, 23-Wes Goosen
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