Crusaders All Blacks have Lions on mindSave
By Patrick McKendry
Fitness permitting, the Crusaders will name a full-strength team to play the British and Irish Lions in Christchurch two weeks out from the first test, a line-up which could include 11 All Blacks.
The match at AMI Stadium on June 10 is one which will challenge the Lions in every facet.
It will be the tourists' third following their opener against the Provincial Barbarians in Whangarei and Blues in Auckland and Warren Gatland is likely to name close to a full-strength team as he counts down to the first test at Eden Park.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson, who is preparing for his side's match against the Stormers in Christchurch on Saturday, has allowed himself to look ahead to the Lions match following the announcement of Gatland's 41-man squad, and admitted every player in his squad was excited by the prospect.
"We're lucky, we play them third so we'll get a feel for the style they want to play," Robertson told Radio Sport of the Lions. "On the back of that we'll formulate how we're going to defend them ... and then look to see how we can take opportunities on attack."
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has already signalled the fact that the Robertson will be able to select a full-strength side, and the Crusaders coach said in confirmation: "Part of not having a test here [in Christchurch] was an indication or agreement that our All Blacks will be able to play for the Crusaders so for us to take a full contingent is pretty impressive. The [All Black] boys talk about winning four games against the Lions, so they're pretty focused."
Fullback Israel Dagg, still four weeks away from playing following knee surgery, is a current All Black who will hope to be available, as will Ryan Crotty, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Owen Franks, Kieran Read, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano. Seta Tamanivalu, who will play on the right wing against the Stormers, played three tests last year.
Robertson, the coach of a team unbeaten after seven matches this season, has had the luxury of being able to name a strong team against the Stormers and a further boost has been the re-signing until 2020 of lock and skipper Whitelock, a player who has gone to a new level for the Crusaders after taking over the captaincy duties from Read.
"You see what he does on the field, how he performs and how calm he is," Robertson said. "He looks forward to the pressure and off the field he includes the whole group - he believes in connecting with the families [of players] and the administration staff and wider public. It's pretty special that he's going to be a long-term Crusader and play a lot of matches. He'll be in the high 100s in terms of Super caps once he finishes."
The Stormers, meanwhile, who include former Blues assistant coach Paul Feeney in their ranks, have arrived in Christchurch with only one loss this season.
"It's going to be one our biggest tests physically. It's their first match on tour and if they can knock us off that would be pretty special for them. They only lost by a point when they were last here three years ago.
"Their counter-attack has definitely changed - that's the biggest thing they've evolved as a group. They've got some players who are backing themselves and backing their skills. They've scored a lot of tries off that but they've still got their strengths - their scrum and lineout which is very strong."
Crusaders team to play Stormers at AMI Stadium on Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm is:
David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Mitchell Drummond, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (c), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Bryn Hall, Mitchell Hunt, Manasa Mataele.
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