May 19, 2017
Sam Whitelock will return from suspension to lead the Crusaders tonight in their Super Rugby match against the Chiefs at the ANZ Stadium in Suva.
All Blacks lock’s return is perfectly timed as Crusaders attempt to extend their winning streak to a club and tournament-record 12 matches.
With last weekend's 20-12 win over the defending champions Hurricanes, which Whitelock missed while serving a two-match suspension for striking, the Crusaders matched the 11 consecutive-win record of the Crusaders side that won the 2002 Super Rugby title.
A win over the Chiefs, who are two-time Super Rugby champions, would increase the Crusaders' lead in the New Zealand conference but would still leave them with work to do after 13 of 17 regular-season rounds to clinch first place and home advantage through the play-offs.
Coach Scott Robertson said Whitelock’s return is a boost to his squad.
“Sam is "fresh, real fresh. Everyone's trying to pull him back. He's an energetic man and he's really clear what he wants out of his group. He was gutted to miss those two opportunities".
Centre Ryan Crotty, who missed last year's match against the Chiefs in Fiji, said the Crusaders were eager to repair a recent poor record against their Hamilton-based rivals.
"They have probably had the upper hand over us the last few years," Crotty said. "That's only added motivation for us."
Meanwhile the Chiefs will be without All Blacks centre Charlie Ngatai who is again showing concussion-like symptoms.
Ngatai played his first match in a year in the Chiefs' most-recent match against the Reds but has again been suffering headaches after training.
But the positive news however is the return of Nathan Harris to the starting side after recovering from an ACL injury.
Aaron Cruden also returns and has been named as the captain, while the other big inclusion sees the return of Tim Nanai-Williams to the wing.
The Chiefs are second in the New Zealand conference, eight points behind the Crusaders with nine wins from 10 games and unbeaten in their last four matches.
They beat the Crusaders 23-13 in their home match in Suva last year.
The much awaited clash kicks off at 7.35pm.
Chiefs- 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
Substitutes: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi'ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Crusaders- 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richard Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (captain), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
By Reginald Chandar