The Crusaders’ squad depth will get its first real challenge in trans-Tasman Super Rugby tomorrow night with three of the team’s star All Blacks being rested against the Force.
Head coach Scott Robertson has opted to omit Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock and Sevu Reece from the home game in Christchurch along with prop George Bower.
"The one thing about having to rotate your All Blacks players, and keep them fresh, is it gives opportunities to someone else," Robertson said.
"These guys have trained extremely hard. It just freshens up the squad. It's an opportunity. We've got to perform, and those guys are ready to do it.
"We know we need to perform, and we want to do so for the people of our region who have been going through a tough time this past week. The team we've selected is ready to do that."
The changes give starting debuts to Tamaiti Williams and Fergus Blake at loosehead prop and first-five respectively while Manasa Mataele will take over on the right wing. Mitchell Dunshea is in at lock.
Elsewhere in the backs Bryn Hall will start at nine, while Braydon Ennor returns from a shoulder injury to join David Havili as the midfield pairing.
The inclusion of Isileli Tu'ungafasi, Tom Sanders, Josh McKay and former All Black Luke Romano on the bench round out the changes to the Crusaders 23 for this week.
During his media session Robertson also gave an unprompted supports message to those affected by this week’s serious flooding, saying he’d spoken to former Crusaders boss turned Ashburton District Council chief executive Hamish Riach already.
“I got a very short message back from Hamish Riach to say that he's the busiest he's ever been,” Robertson said.
“We feel for everyone in the wider community with what's been going on with our weather patterns in the last week or so.
“We'll find a way we can help anyway through our partners and charities. Our thoughts are with them...we're right behind them like they are with us.”
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Fergus Burke, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Dunshea, Scott Barrett (c), Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams.
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Isileli Tu’ungafasi, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Dallas McLeod, Josh McKay.