Strong Crusaders outfit to face reshuffled Lions

by AAP

A Crusaders starting team featuring eight All Blacks will set out to defend their perfect 2017 record when they host the British and Irish Lions.

Coach Scott Robertson has named a squad close to full strength for the match in Christchurch on Saturday and one which shapes as an enormous challenge to the wobbling tourists.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions have played an attractive brand this season on the way to winning 14-from-14 games.

Like the Blues, who toppled the Lions 22-16 on Wednesday, they have access to their Test players.


Robertson has taken full advantage, naming an all-All Black tight five, including captain Sam Whitelock at lock, along with flanker Matt Todd, winger Seta Tamanivalu and fullback Israel Dagg.

Dagg starts in the No.15 jersey for the first time in 10 weeks. The veteran's season was blighted by a knee injury sustained in round three. He returned with one appearance off the bench and one on the wing.

David Havili, who has shone brightly at fullback, shifts to inside centre in place of injured All Black Ryan Crotty (ribs).

Crotty was included in the New Zealand Test squad on Thursday along with two other notable Crusaders injury omissions - Test captain Kieran Read (thumb) and lock Scott Barrett.

Robertson says the Lions will only be more determined following a difficult first week of their tour, which began with a flattering win over an unheralded New Zealand provincial Barbarians team.

"This is a huge and exciting challenge for us. We are facing some of the best rugby players in the world, but we have some of the world's best in this team too, so it will be a fantastic clash," he said.

"No matter how it unfolds, this will be a game that the players involved will remember as one of the special moments in their careers."

The only changes to the team who pipped the Highlanders 25-22 last weekend is the Dagg introduction and a rotation at halfback, where Bryn Hall starts ahead of Mitchell Drummond.

Mitchell Hunt, who kicked a dramatic late dropped goal to sink the Highlanders, remains on the bench.

True to his word, British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland will give the final 11 players of his 41-man squad a starting role for the clash.

Gatland has already played two different starting XVs in the tourist's matches against the provincial Barbarians and Blues.

For the clash in Christchurch, Englishman Owen Farrell is partnered with Irishman Conor Murray in the halves, while Gatland has once again preferred brawn to brains in the centres by selecting Jonathan Davies and Ben Te'o.

The back three is made up of Welsh duo George North and Liam Williams on the wings, as well as Scottish attacking weapon Stuart Hogg at fullback.

Up front, stand-in skipper Alun Wyn Jones - who captained the Lions in the third 2013 Test against Australia - will start in the second-row alongside George Kruis.

Taulupe Faletau and Irish duo Sean O'Brien and Peter O'Mahony take up roles in the loose forward trio, while destructive Irish tighthead Tadhg Furlong will be joined by Jamie George and Mako Vunipola in the front-row.

Of the XV, only Te'o, Hogg, Jones and Faletau have already started a match.

"The aim was always to start everyone in the first three matches and this selection ensures we achieve this," Gatland said.

The Lions have struggled in their first two matches in New Zealand, crawling to a 13-7 victory over the provincial Barbarians in Whangarei before falling 22-16 to the Blues at Eden Park on Wednesday night.

Gatland admitted his Test side would need to be more disciplined against the Crusaders, who are undefeated in Super Rugby this season.

"Last night's result against the Blues was disappointing, and we know we can't afford to give away so many penalties," Gatland said.

The Crusaders host the British and Irish Lions on Saturday, kicking off at 5:35pm AEST LIVE on FOX SPORTS.


British and Irish Lions to face Crusaders

1. Mako Vunipola

2. Jamie George

3. Tadhg Furlong

4. Alun Wyn Jones

5. George Kruis

6. Peter O’Mahony

7. Sean O’Brien

8. Taulupe Faletau

9. Conor Murray

10. Owen Farrell

11. Liam Williams

12. Ben Teo

13. Jonathan Davis

14. George North

15. Stuart Hogg


16. Ken Owens

17. Jack McGrath

18. Dan Cole

19. Maro Itoje

20. CJ Stander

21. Rhys Webb

22. Johnny Sexton

23. Anthony Watson

Crusaders to face British and Irish Lions

1. Joe Moopdy

2. Codie Taylor

3. Own Franks

4. Luke Romano

5. Sam Whitelock

6. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis

7. Matt Todd

8. Jordan Taufua

9. Bryn Hall

10. Richie Mounga

11. George Bridge

12. David Havili

13. Jack Goodhue

14. Seta Tamanivalu

15. Israel Dagg


16. Ben Funnell

17. Wyatt Crockett

18. Michael Alaalatoa

19. Quinten Strange

20. Jed Brown

21. Mitchell Drummond

22. Mitchell Hunt

23. Tim Bateman