The cobwebs will be brushed off the Crusaders' star All Blacks on Friday as Todd Blackadder wheels them into action against the Highlanders in Oamaru.
Although Richie McCaw and Sonny Bill Williams will not play the Super warm-up match, coach Todd Blackadder confirmed after the Crusaders' 19-14 win over the Rebels in Melbourne last Saturday night he will call on Dan Carter, Brad Thorn and Kieran Read at Centennial Park.
While McCaw has been granted permission to skip the opening competition matches against the Blues and Hurricanes and Williams is recovering from a stress fracture in his lower left leg, Carter, Thorn and Read, who will captain the team until McCaw returns, will pull on the boots in anger for the first time of the year.
"We will want to play a team that will be similar to the one that will play the Blues the following week and that means we want to see those guys get a run," Blackadder said.
All Blacks midfielder Williams has begun a running programme but there are doubts he will be rushed back for the match against the Blues at Eden Park.
The return of the three All Blacks should boost the number of Crusaders players with international experience into double figures if hooker Corey Flynn (calf) and outside back Israel Dagg, who took a bang to the leg, are passed fit.
Gauging teams' title chances from meaningless pre-season games can be fraught with pitfalls as coaches refrain from revealing their strategies, and Crusaders fans will be hoping this is the case with their lot.
Having been thumped 45-12 by the Queensland Reds in Cairns the previous weekend, they required a second try by midfielder Adam Whitelock in the 66th minute to clinch the win over the Rebels, who, as the newcomers, are not expected to make the play-offs.
Played in front of a 13,000-strong crowd, the Crusaders led 7-0 when flanker Matt Todd scored in the opening quarter before conceding tries to former NRL player Cooper Vuna and James Hilgendorf.
Whitelock's tries, the last following a long-range breakout by Robbie Fruean, ensured the Crusaders left with the win and Blackadder was hopeful Dagg and hooker Quentin MacDonald's injuries are minor.
"I felt we have made some progress, it was definitely a lot better than the Reds match," Blackadder said. "Although we had a fumble session there at one point, it was a vast improvement. And it doesn't help combinations much when you are pick and mixing your team."
Blackadder must have felt as if he was operating as an NFL coach with 27 players suiting-up in Melbourne. A smaller squad will be used against the Highlanders, who lost All Blacks lock Tom Donnelly with a shoulder injury in their 28-26 defeat to the Chiefs in Taupo on Saturday.
Tomorrow the Crusaders will train at Terrace Downs before moving to Oamaru.
In other pre-season results, the Blues beat the Hurricanes 33-22 in Kerikeri, the Reds flogged the Brumbies 38-5 in Darwin and the Waratahs downed Fiji 41-13 in Sydney. The Force beat a Barbarians side 40-24 in Perth.
Crusaders 19 (A Whitelock 2 M Todd tries M Berquist 2 cons) Rebels 14 (C Vuna J Hilgendorf tries J Hilgendorf 2 cons). HT: 7-0.
- The Press