While Ben Franks and Andy Ellis are on the bench for the seven-time champion’s first pre-season match against the Highlanders, the primary focus for the Crusaders will be to give their extended playing squad a run.
The presence of the two World Cup winners is likely more cursory, as coach Todd Blackadder will not rush out his All Blacks with an arduous season ahead.
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw has been a participant in the team’s training sessions (albeit without heavy duties) and it was confirmed that his recovery from foot surgery was on track.
The only missing All Black from Crusaders pre-season training is Dan Carter, who has been on his honeymoon with his new wife, and is expected to be suited up for the team by March.
Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and Israel Dagg are all back with the team, but are being wrapped in cotton wool for now.
Zac Guildford is also available but still serving his suspension after off-field issues.
While the presence of the Crusaders All Blacks contingent on the sidelines will be notable this weekend, the following match against the Hurricanes in Mangatainoka will see the introduction of more test players.
The final pre-season match against the Rebels in Melbourne will see close to a full strength Crusaders team on display, with Kieran Read wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Richie McCaw.
Matt Todd will continue to play at openside in the place of the 103-test flanker.
Tyler Bleyendaal has been given first shot at playing first five-eighth for the Crusaders, with rival playmaker Tom Taylor still not fully fit to play.