Laulala returns for Crusaders


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The Crusaders have named Casey Laulala to start against the Sharks on Friday. Laulala is back after the head knock, sustained against the Chiefs which ultimately ruled him out of last week’s 26-22 win over the Blues.

The powerful centre has since successfully completed impact testing in order to be declared fit to play again.

Something of a surprise selection comes at No. 8 where Nasi Manu is named to start as Tuiali’i is still suffering from an ailment in his lower back that flared up during the early stages of the match with the Blues.

Manu makes the first start of his Super 14 career after performing impressively when injected into the game after just 16 minutes last week, as replacement for the in-form No 8 Mose Tuiali’i.

‘It’s a tough blow for Mose, but we’ve no doubt that Nasi will more than cover the gap that he leaves, as he did last week,’ Crusaders coach Robbie Deans says on the Crusaders website.

Although still 19 until August, and in his maiden Super 14 season, Manu has excelled to such an extent that he has quickly become a regular member of the Crusaders match day squad, featuring in every game since his debut at Pretoria in round two.

Friday night’s match will represent the 10th cap of his Super rugby career.

While acknowledging that he has ‘managed’ Manu’s work and playing load in his rookie year, Deans is adamant that the young Tongan-reared player is ready for the responsibility that comes with starting.

‘There’s no doubt,’ Deans says, ‘you only have to watch the footage of last week where he more than held his own against a quality opposing loose trio to see that.’

Manu’s inclusion means that the Crusaders will field three members of this year’s New Zealand Under-20 squad for the world tournament in June, with wingers Kade Poki and Sean Maitland also having made that national team.

The change also necessitates a shuffle on the run on reserves bench, allowing George Whitelock to return to the mix after he won the Crusaders’ internal Player of the Match award during an outstanding debut performance against the Lions earlier in the month.

The Sharks arrived in Christchurch from Sydney on Sunday.

While the South African franchise is yet to win from seven previous visits to Christchurch ‘ which includes a semi-final in 1998 ‘ history shows there is seldom much between the two sides.

In total, of the 13 matches played between the two franchises, eight have been determined by the margin of a converted try or less.

This includes last year’s contest at Durban, where the Sharks scored a try after the final siren and halfback Ruan Pienaar then converted it from the sideline, to clinch an epic 27-26 win.

When the Crusaders last entertained the Sharks, it took a late dropped goal by Daniel Carter to secure a 22-20 win at Timaru in 2006.

‘They’ll be hungry and they’ll be determined,’ Deans says of his team’s next rival.

‘While the last two weeks haven’t gone as well as they will have hoped, they’d been unbeaten in nine before that so they’d built up a lot of confidence.


“This is the last game of their tour and they’ll throw everything they have at us out on the track. We’d certainly be that way if we were in their position.’

The match is the third from last of the regular season programme, but Deans was quick to douse any premature talk of the playoffs ‘ which the league leaders have yet to qualify for.

‘Those who look ahead are those who don’t have any accountability out on the track,’ he says.

‘This competition has always been a week-to-week proposition, and nothing’s changed. It is only about the next opponent, and that’s our sole focus.


“In that context, the [competition] point’s table has no relevance, for either ourselves or the Sharks. Where we sit on the point’s table is not going to help either of us once the game kicks off on Friday night!’


Crusaders Team:

15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Sean Maitland, 10 Stephen Brett, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Greg Somerville, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.


Reserves: Ti’i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett, Ross Filipo, George Whitelock, Kahn Fotuali’i, Hamish Gard, Caleb Ralph.

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