Matt Todd raring to go for champion Canterbury
Canterbury have been strengthened by the availability of loose forward Matt Todd for Saturday's National Provincial Championship opener against Auckland.
The two-test All Black was one of the form openside flankers in Super Rugby and unlucky not to be included in the national squad for the Rugby Championship.
Despite having a high workload for the Crusaders during Super Rugby, Todd was eager to be involved with the red-and-blacks.
"He's champing. He's good to go," Canterbury coach Scott Robertson said yesterday.
Todd's inclusion is a major boost for the six-time defending NPC champions.
With former skipper George Whitelock heading off to play in Japan and Jordan Taufua now with Counties Manukau, Canterbury have lost two industrious loose forwards from last season.
No 8 Nasi Manu, who was co-captain of the Highlanders, is unavailable for Canterbury's opening two games as he rests a couple of minor niggles from a long Super Rugby campaign.
Todd is likely to start at openside for Canterbury with Luke Whitelock at No 8. New Zealand under-20s player Tom Sanders, from Lincoln University, may be in line for a NPC debut at blindside flanker.
Robertson will have the bulk of his squad - minus the All Blacks - available for Saturday.
Midfielder Ryan Crotty will be rested for the opening few games after starting in every game for the Crusaders. He will be assessed on a weekly basis.
Locking depth could be tested with Englishman Matt Symons, who was a member of the Chiefs this season, set to undergo shoulder surgery.
Luke Katene, who started at lock in 10 of Canterbury's 12 games last season, has transferred to Waikato. Their absence creates an opportunity for Joel Everson, who has 27 caps for Canterbury, and the uncapped Scott Barrett to impress. Marist Albion's Josh Manning will also be vying for game time.
Up front, former New Zealand under-20 international Alex Hodgman could get the nod at loosehead prop with Joe Moody and Wyatt Crockett on All Blacks duty. Hodgman was a standout in last Friday's pre-season game against Wellington.
In the backline, players such as skipper Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Johnny McNicholl, Tom Taylor and Adam Whitelock will be all relishing the chance for regular starts.
"The integration of the young guys is really critical for us. We've got some experience that's moved on and these guys are really keen to step up."
Last season, Canterbury used Norweigan explorer Roald Amundsen, who was among the first men to reach the South Pole in 1911, as inspiration for their NPC season.
They drew parallels between Amundsen's successful expedition and their own quest to win a sixth consecutive title. The previous year, Canterbury used legendary boxer Muhammad Ali as motivation.
Robertson said Canterbury had planned a different theme this season, but was reluctant to reveal the idea publicly.
"That's something for the team and how we live our culture. We want to keep it to ourselves."