MacDonald back for Crusaders


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All Black Leon MacDonald returns at fullback in the only change to the Crusders starting team to face the Hurricanes in Wellington.

Caleb Ralph drops to the bench in the place of midfield back Hamish Gard.

Scott Hamilton returns to the left wing after deputising at fullback last week, while Kade Poki resumes on the right.

“Leon was nursing a couple of bumps. Common sense demanded that we didn’t risk him,” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans says on the Crusaders site.

“He’s had a couple of days to freshen up now though, and has run strongly at training this week, so he’s ready to go again. The break he’s been able to have now will be good for him in the long run.”

The Crusaders head for Wellington eight table points clear after an unbeaten run in the Super 14. They have scored the most tries (30).

Next week they have the bye but Deans insists the break will not be a distraction as the Crusaders bid to finish off this section of the competition in style.

“We’ve got momentum and that’s important, but it’s a weekly thing. You’ve got to live in the now and we’ll be working hard to make sure we do that,” he says.

Strangely this weekend represents the Crusaders’ first encounter with a fellow New Zealand side during the championship so the Crusaders will have to contend with a different style of play.

“It’s a factor, no doubt,” Deans acknowledged.

“The South Africans play direct, the Australians tend to apply more width, and the New Zealand teams are somewhere in between. This is especially the case of the Hurricanes, who generally offer a good mix of both.”

The Hurricanes have been the competition’s quiet achiever to date, wracking up consecutive wins over the Queensland Reds, the Chiefs, the Highlanders and the ACT Brumbies since their opening round loss to the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

Colin Cooper’s side was especially impressive when inflicting a record home defeat on the Brumbies at Canberra in its most recent outing – a performance that did not go un-noticed in Christchurch.

“They [the Hurricanes] have been playing well. They’ve won four straight themselves which is not easy to do in this competition, and are coming off a bye, so they’ll be fresh and keen, and have a couple of influential players coming back to them,” Deans says.

“It’s going to be a major challenge – the toughest we’ve had to date. There’s no doubt about that.”

The Crusaders team to play the Hurricanes at Westpac Stadium, Wellington on Friday March 28, kick off 7.35pm, is:

15. Leon MacDonald, 14. Scott Hamilton , 13. Casey Laulala ,12. Tim Bateman ,11. Kade Poki , 10. Daniel Carter , 9. Andrew Ellis , 8. Mose Tuiali’i , 7. Richard McCaw (captain), 6. Kieran Read , 5. Ali Williams , 4. Brad Thorn , 3. Greg Somerville , 2. Corey Flynn ,1. Ben Franks

Reserves:16. Ti’i Paulo , 17. Wyatt Crockett ,18. Michael Paterson ,19. Nasi Manu ,20. Kahn Fotuali’i , 21. Caleb Ralph , 22. Sean Maitland

Coaches: Robbie Deans, Mark Hammett
Manager: Tony Thorpe   

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