Wyatt Crockett back in Canterbury front row
Canterbury will welcome back the powerful force that is Wyatt Crockett for their all-important clash with Waikato tomorrow in Hamilton.
Unwanted by All Blacks coach Steve Hansen for the final legs of the Rugby Championship, Crockett has been released back to the Canterbury squad and jumps straight into the No 1 jersey, adding some experience to the youthful Canterbury tight five.
His inclusion is one of three changes coach Tabai Matson has made to his starting line-up for the match after last weekend's disappointing Ranfurly Shield challenge loss to Taranaki.
Johnny McNicholl is back from the injury that kept him out of last week's match and slots back onto the wing, while Codie Taylor jumps into the front row at hooker replacing Ben Funnell.
Matson said the return of Crockett was a big coup for Canterbury.
"Getting Wyatt back is fantastic but it's also bittersweet," he said.
"For us it is brilliant because we get a stand-out player back in our side, but for him, personally, it will be clearly disappointing that he's not travelling with the All Blacks."
Crockett's influence will be vital as Waikato boast a physical forward pack who throw everything into the break down.
After last week's loss, Matson said the Canterbury side had reacted the right way and enjoyed a good week of training as their focus shifted back to the basics with just over four weeks of rugby left to play in the round robin section of the competition.
"This week for us has been about just getting back to playing rugby.
"We have been lucky we have been able to enjoy a seven day turn around for our last few games and that has helped to keep a lot of our guys fresh each week.
"The Taranaki game wasn't pretty and we struggled with adapting to the conditions, so it's been all about getting the guys on track to turn that performance around to produce a good one this weekend."
The Canterbury-Waikato rivalry has developed over the past decade to one of New Zealand rugby's most fierce battles.
The two sides met in the final of last year's premiership division, which Canterbury won 12-3, and Matson is expecting another close encounter.
"Like you would expect, Waikato are a quality side and are a team who are ferocious on the rugby field.
"This is a critical game for them too, if they were to lose it would make the rest of their season really tough, so we know they will be ready to give us all they have got."
While Matson is expecting a close encounter bookmakers are expecting something quite different, with Canterbury $1.40 chances to win with Waikato at an appealing $2.80.
Waikato have made five changes to their starting line up for tomorrow at Waikato Stadium (kickoff 2.35pm).
There are two changes to the forward pack that lost to Wellington last Saturday and a further three in the backline.
A neck injury will keep hooker Marcel Cummings-Toone out of the match, which provides a starting opportunity for Vance Elliott, while at openside flanker Zak Hohneck returns after missing the Wellington match.
At halfback Brendon Leonard gets another start, Declan O'Donnell is back on the wing, and Jackson Willison returns to the starting lineup at second five-eighth.
The match will be fullback Trent Renata's 50th game for the province.
CANTERBURY: Tom Taylor, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Johnny McNicholl, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Nasi Manu, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Luke Katene, Nepo Laulala, Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Ben Funnell, Paea Fa'anunu, Joel Everson, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Telusa Veainu, Sam Monaghan.
WAIKATO: Toby Smith, Vance Elliott, Ben May, Chris Middleton, Sam Kilgour, Matt Vant Leven, Zak Hohneck, Alex Bradley (c), Brendon Leonard, Piers Francis, Declan O'Donnell, Jackson Willison, Save Tokula, Tim Mikkelson, Trent Renata. Res: Kalem Chan Boon, Ted Tauroa, Rory Grice, Jono Armstrong, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Sam Christie, Joe Webber.