All Black Owen Franks ruled out by Crusaders
Tighthead prop Owen Franks has been forced to withdraw from the Crusaders because of a hamstring injury but hooker Ben Funnell has been cleared to sit on the bench.
Rookie Nepo Laulala, who has not played this season, has been named to start at tighthead prop for tomorrow night's Super Rugby blockbuster against the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium because Franks has failed to recovery from his training injury.
This means the Crusaders have been forced to start an inexperienced front row for one of the most important matches of their campaign.
Hooker Codie Taylor will also be making his first start of the season because of injuries to Corey Flynn and Funnell during last weekend's match against the Blues.
While Flynn (hamstring strain) will not play the Chiefs, Funnell has been deemed fit enough to be named on the bench after making a swift recovery from a knee injury.
This means Laurence Corlett, who had been dragged out of Taranaki club rugby to provide cover, will not be required to suit-up.
Although Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had the option of switching Wyatt Crockett to the less-familiar tighthead spot, he has elected to keep him in the No 1 jersey and name Joe Moody on the bench.
Blackadder is likely to carefully monitor how Laulala copes with this assignment and if he struggles in the set pieces he will switch Crockett to tighthead and promote Moody to replace him.
This match will be the biggest of Laulala's career and he will mark Pauliasi Manu in Hamilton.
Franks strained a hamstring at Crusaders training yesterday and failed a fitness test in Christchurch this morning.
His omission is a significant blow for the Crusaders who will have been eager to use him to anchor their scrum after he played such a key role the 23-3 win over the Blues in Christchurch.
The Chiefs also lost tighthead prop Ben Afeaki who returned from the All Blacks camp with a calf strain. He has been replaced by Ben Tameifuna.