Crusaders strengthen line-up

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans has made two changes to his starting line-up for Saturday, when the rejuvenated defending champions head for Durban to face the undefeated Sharks.

Winger Rico Gear and tighthead prop Campbell Johnstone return to the side, after missing last weekend’s 49-28 win over the Cheetahs at Bloemfontein, with Brent Ward and Wyatt Crockett moving to the bench.

There is one further change among the replacements, with utility loose forward Peter Nixon coming in for Jake Paringatai.

Deans says that Gear has recovered fully from the shoulder complaint that ruled him out of contention for a role last weekend. Johnstone was left out of the match day squad altogether against the Cheetahs so that he could freshen up after having shouldered a heavy work load throughout the early part of the campaign.

The return of the two All Blacks will boost the Crusaders, as their experience will come in handy against a Sharks side that has strung together an unbeaten start to the competition against the Bulls (17-3), NSW Waratahs (22-9) and Highlanders (23-16).

Almost as impressive as their win tally has been their record on defence, with the Sharks have conceded just one try – late in the match against the Highlanders, from 240 minutes of Super rugby action so far.

“They’re a quality side who are playing well,” Deans says of the South Africans.

“They are well coached, well organised on the field – both defensively and on attack, and have a lot of options in the way that they can play the game. They also boast a lot of experience with players of Springbok calibre scattered through the side. It’s clearly going to be a huge challenge, but it is one we are excited about and looking forward to.”

The Crusaders have been based in Durban, on the Kwa-Zulu Natal coast, since Monday night, adapting to temperatures that have hovered consistently around the early 30s mark in Celsius measurements.

Of perhaps even greater potential difficulty for the visitors is the oppressive humidity, although the Crusaders are hoping this might have eased, at least to some extent, by the time the match kicks off at five o’clock in the evening (local time) on Saturday.

Crusaders: 15 Scott Hamilton, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Rua Tipoki, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Johnny Leo’o, 6 Kieran Read, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn (c), 1 Ben Franks
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Isaac Ross, 19 Peter Nixon, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Tusi Pisi, 22 Brent Ward

Venue: The ABSA Stadium, Durban
Date: 3 March 2007
Kick-off: 17.00 (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Touch judges: Dan Cheever (Australia), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

365 Digital

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