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Crusaders hooker ready to make debut after months waiting in the wings

It has been a long and sometimes frustrating wait on the sidelines for Crusaders hooker Nathan Vella, but he says he is ready to take his opportunity when he debuts for the club against the Waratahs in Wollongong this Saturday.

Nathan Vella at Crusaders training earlier this month. Source: Getty

Vella has been named on the bench for the Waratahs clash in place of Brodie McAlister, and looks set to make his debut for the side he joined as injury-cover at the start of the year.

"He’s been extremely patient, he trains extremely well so we’re pleased to give him an opportunity... he's pumped," Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.

The 31-year-old Vella joined the Crusaders after Andrew Makalio was ruled out of the season with a neck injury, after previously playing for the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Sunwolves, as well as Canterbury and Bay of Plenty in the Mitre 10 Cup.

"I always knew it was going to be a pretty tough ask down here with the calibre of players that were in front of me but yeah definitely excited to finally have a crack," Vella said, while admitting it had been "frustrating at times" having to watch on from the sidelines all year.

The Crusaders will be without the services of David Havili on Saturday, Robertson giving the versatile back a break after several strong performances throughout the season.

"He’s had a massive load. He’s played big minutes and important minutes and been one of the form players of the comp. We thought it was a great opportunity for us to freshen him up," Robertson said.

While the Waratahs have been the whipping boys of both Super Rugby competitions this season, Robertson said the Crusaders still needed to be right on their game in order to avoid an upset.

"They've got a quality group of players that care about the team and working hard so you've got to right on the day.

"If they can knock off the Crusaders that can make their season pretty special accomplishment."

Crusaders team to face Waratahs: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Dallas McLeod, 11 Leicester Fainga'anuku, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Cullen Grace, 7 Sione Havili Talitui, 6 Whetu Douglas, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor 1 George Bower.

Replacements: 16 Nathan Vella, 17 Tamaiti Williams, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Samuel Whitelock, 20 Mitchell Dunshea, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Fergus Blake, 23 Manasa Mataele.