Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has named openside Ardie Savea in his team to play the Crusaders in a Super Rugby pre-season trial match in Blenheim on Friday.
Savea will start in a rejigged loose forward trio in his first appearance in fifteens this year following a stint with the New Zealand sevens team on the World Series sevens circuit.
He’ll be joined in the loose by athletic blindside Vaea Fifita, who replaces Brad Shields, one of several players including season captain and hooker Dane Coles who are being rested as a precaution ahead of the Hurricanes first competition match against the Brumbies next weekend in Canberra.
Shields has a sore foot, while Coles, who missed last weekend’s preseason match against the Blues to attend a close friend’s wedding, will sit out the Crusaders match due to a tight hamstring.
“With the season so close there is no point in risking guys in a warm up match, so we’ve erred on the side of caution with a number of players,” Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd said.
Halfback TJ Perenara will again lead the side with Coles’ place in the starting team goes to young Wellington hooker Leni Apisai, who scored one of the Hurricanes two tries against the Blues in Eketahuna last Saturday.
The Hurricanes starting fifteen also features the return of lock Blade Thomson, who missed the last match due to a sore shoulder, who will partner Mark Abbott in the second row.
There is just one change in the backline where Vince Aso, out recently with a minor groin strain, comes into the squad at centre for Matt Proctor. Proctor will be side lined for several weeks after straining the posterior cruciate ligament in his knee against the Blues.
Boyd said the Crusaders match was an important one just a week out from his team’s first match of the Investec Super Rugby season proper.
“It’s important we build some confidence this week and get some combinations going. We had a number of injuries to deal with last week, which we’ve done and now we are refocused on making sure we’re in the best possible state for the start of the competition.
“We know we’ll need to be at our very best against a quality outfit like the Crusaders, so I don’t think there’s any risk we won’t be up for this match.”
The Hurricanes reserves bench includes halfback Jamison Gibson Park, who will play his first match for the Hurricanes after recovering from an ankle injury, prop Loni Uhila and recent New Zealand under 20s front rower Ricky Riccitelli.
Matt Proctor (knee), Motu Matu’u (calf), Brad Shields (foot), Ben May (shoulder), James Blackwell (foot) were all unavailable due to injury.
15 Nehe Milner-Skudder , 14 Cory Jane , 13 Vince Aso , 12 Ngani Laumape , 11 Julian Savea , 10 Beauden Barrett , 9 TJ Perenara (c) , 8 Victor Vito , 7 Ardie Savea , 6 Vaea Fifita , 5 Mark Abbott , 4 Blade Thomson , 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen , 2 Leni Apisai , 1 Reggie Goodes
Replacements: Ricky Riccitelli, Loni Uhila, Chris Eves, Michael Fatialofa, Callum Gibbins, Jamison Gibson-Park, Willis Halaholo, Pita Ahki, James Marshall, Jason Woodward.