Wed, 21 Jan 2009 5:15p.m.
Defending Super 14 champions the Crusaders are on their way to Perth for their first pre-season match.
They will play John Mitchell's Western Force, and coming off the bench will be halfback Andy Ellis in his first major outing since injury shortened his end of season tour with the All Blacks.
The number nine spot in the All Blacks is one of the most fiercely contested.
"You're scared sometimes to pick up a beer and have it," says Ellis. "You hope all the other halfbacks are."
Mindful of the threats posed by the likes of Jimmy Cowan, Piri Weepu, and Brendon Leonard, the 24-year-old is back training after coming home early from the All Blacks' UK tour.
He injured his ribs in the win over Scotland in November.
"I've had a good six weeks to two months off and it's great, we are back in full training and excited."
While some of the squad has been training for months, All Black skipper Richie McCaw is only just back. His last game was for the Barbarians at Wembley early last month.
"Certainly the last couple of weeks it's been tough getting going, but certainly back into it now," says McCaw."The next two weeks has been critical in integrating the All Blacks and looking after them," says Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.
After the pre-season match against the Force in Perth this Friday, it is onto Timaru for the Crusaders where Ellis should be up against Cowan, the new Highlanders captain.