Crusaders make four changes

After demolishing the Force 53-0, the Crusaders have opted to make a few changes as they head into Saturday’s clash aginst the Highlanders in Dunedin.

Scott Hamilton comes off the benchs to the right wing in the place of Rico Gear, while Kevin Senio again takes over at scrum-half from Andrew Ellis.

In the forwards, Ben Franks gets a start ahead of Wyatt Crockett at loosehead prop, after Crockett had started there for the past four weeks. Isaac Ross comes in for the injured Michael Paterson in the second row.

Crockett and Ellis are both on the bench, where Gear has been bracketed alongside midfield back Rua Tipoki.

Tipoki returned to duty via an outing for the Linwood club last weekend, after injuring his hamstring on the eve of the Crusaders match with the Sharks in Durban at the start of last month.

A decision on who takes up the place in the match day 22, between Tipoki and Gear, will be made later in the week.

So far Deans has managed to rotate the squad, along with the fact that the All Blacks returned after seven weeks’ break, to the extent that only three players have started every game – hooker Corey Flynn, centre Casey Laulau and number eight Mose Tuali’i.

“By spreading the work, we are helping to keep everyone fresh, while also ensuring the opportunity is shared out across a wider group of players,” Deans says.

“That not only helps to keep the enthusiasm levels up across the whole group, it also provides us with a broader range of contingency options should we strike injuries down the track.”

This is vindicated by the return of Isaac Ross at lock after injuries to Michael Paterson and Chris Jack.

Ross has already played in the matches against the Sharks, Cheetahs and Bulls.

“Isaac has made large strides already in his first Super 14, and Saturday offers him another chance to impress,” Crusaders forwards coach Mark Hammett says.

“While it is tough on Chris and Mike that injuries have put them on the sideline for now, Isaac handled himself well earlier in the competition and we’ve no doubts that he will do so again. With the experience he has, the transition should be relatively seamless as far as the overall function of the forward pack is concerned.”

At scrum-half, both Senio and Ellis are playing well, and rotating them is spurring them on to greater heights, as well as maintaing their freshness.

“We’re exceedingly fortunate to have two top scrum-halves who are both performing well and pushing each other on due to the level of their performance,” Deans notes.

The same could be said of Franks and Crockett, who have each appeared in eight of the nine matches played by the Crusaders to date, and have each started five times.

Deans says the decision to rest Gear is based around the games he has played to date, with the winger having missed only one match previously, when a shoulder injury ruled him out of selection contention for the game at Bloemfontein.

“The changes in no way reflect any disrespect for the Highlanders on our part. Our attitude is the complete opposite,” Deans says.

“Our experience is that the Highlanders are always difficult, especially playing them down there. Local derbies are always passionate affairs and this one will be no different.”

While the Crusaders have won 10 of the 14 matches between the two South Island, New Zealander teams, the scoreboard from games played in Dunedin stands at three-apiece.

“We played well last weekend, but that performance has been and gone and has no relevance for the challenge that lies ahead this week,” Deans warned.

“As always, it is the game that we play next that is all that matters.”

Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Casey Laulau, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Mose Tuali’i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Isaac Ross,

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