Flyhalf Richie Mo’unga will return to the Crusaders’ starting lineup when they clash with the Blues at Eden Park on Friday.
Mo’unga, who played through knee and groin strains against the Waratahs in round one, was not risked by coach Scott Robertson in last week’s defeat by the Chiefs.
Regular fullback David Havili did an adequate job filling in for the All Blacks flyhalf in Hamilton, but Roberston will certainly be pleased to have the influential Mo’unga back ahead of the derby in Auckland.
With Mo’unga’s return Havili shifts back to the last line of defence and Will Jordan drops to the bench in place of Leicester Faingaanuku, while Bryn Hall gets a start ahead of Mitchell Drummond.
The Crusaders have, however, lost experienced eighthman Whetukamokamo Douglas to injury, with Roberston being forced to select rookie flank Cullen Grace in his starting side. Tom Sanders shifts to the back of the scrum as a result of Douglas being ruled out, with former Blues loose forward Sione Havili likely to earn his first start from the bench.
Meanwhile, prop Ofa Tuungafasi will start for the Blues, with the home side opting for an All Blacks front row for an expected physical battle up front. Experienced hooker James Parsons is also back in the starting lineup, alongside Tuungafasi and the in-form Karl Tu’inukuafe. The rest of the forward pack remains intact from last weekend’s victory over the Waratahs.
Coach Leon MacDonald has refrained from making any changes to the Blues’ backline, with English centre Joe Marchant selected alongside TJ Faiane in the midfield.
Last week’s hat-trick hero Mark Telea will once again form a back-three partnership with the experienced Matt Duffie and Jordan Hylund, who keeps his place in the team following Rieko Ioane’s hand injury in round one.
As a result of Parsons and Tuungafasi’s promotion to the starting side, hooker Kurt Eklund and the promising Sione Mafileo drop to the bench, while hard-working USA international Tony Lamborn comes in for as loose-forward cover ahead of Akira Ioane.
The Crusaders have only lost back-to-back games once under Robertson – at the beginning of the 2018 season – with the Blues’ last victory coming in 2014.
Blues – 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Jordan Hyland, 13 Joe Marchant, 12 TJ Faiane, 11 Mark Telea, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Jonathan Ruru, 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Dalton Papali’i, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu (c), 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Karl Tu’inukuafe.
Subs: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Ezekiel Lindenmuth, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Tom Robinson, 20 Tony Lamborn, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Harry Plummer, 23 Emoni Narawa.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Tom Christie, 6 Cullen Grace, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 4 Scott Barrett (c), 3 Oliver Jager, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Sione Havili, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Will Jordan.
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