Richie McCaw heads to back of Crusaders' pack
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has resisted the urge to experiment by switching captain Richie McCaw to No8 to replace injured All Blacks star Kieran Read.
With Read out with a rib injury, Blackadder had mused about retaining McCaw at openside flanker for Saturday's clash with the Western Force and using rookie Luke Whitelock or Matt Todd at the boot of the scrum.
However, he has opted for the tried and true option, moving McCaw back to No8 where he excelled for the All Blacks in the third test against Ireland when Read was sidelined with concussion.
Todd will fill the No7 jersey for the first time since the defeat to the Hurricanes 10 days ago.
Blackadder and assistants Daryl Gibson and Dave Hewett have made three changes to the run-on XV that beat the Chiefs in Hamilton.
All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock, who has had a heavy workload, is replaced in the starting lineup by ex-international Tom Donnelly, who will partner new All Black Luke Romano.
Robbie Fruean, who has started every game at centre, is on the bench against the Force, with Adam Whitelock moving to the midfield role from the right wing.
Sean Maitland, whose last start was at fullback against the Hurricanes when All Black Israel Dagg was injured, will return to his specialist gig in the No14 jersey.
Fruean should not need freshening up after just two matches following the mid-season break. However, Adam Whitelock was at his bristling best against the Chiefs, thirsting for work as he came off his wing to take the ball up. He will relish a rare opportunity to start in his preferred midfield role. He played the first two matches of the season at second five-eighth before Dan Carter took over the role on his return from a groin injury.
Whitelock's last game at centre was a club outing for High School Old Boys during the Super Rugby break. That was, admittedly, a much lower level. However, Crusaders backs coach Gibson will be delighted if the result is the same – Whitelock scored three tries while marking Fruean, who turned out for Lincoln University.
The Crusaders have foregone their regular prop rotation, retaining the Franks brothers, Ben and Owen, who started against the Chiefs, and deploying Wyatt Crockett in the impact role off the bench. The bench depth is something Force stand-in coach Phil Blake can only envy.
He has lost his best player, Wallabies flanker David Pocock, and Nathan Sharpe is under an injury cloud.
The Force operate in a state where Australian football rules and rugby depth is limited. The Australian Rugby Union has recognised that by giving the Force the nod to recruit a third foreign player next season.
CRUSADERS: 15-Israel Dagg, 14-Sean Maitland, 13-Adam Whitelock, 12-Ryan Crotty, 11-Zac Guildford, 10-Dan Carter, 9-Andy Ellis, 8-Richie McCaw (c), 7- Matt Todd, 6-George Whitelock, 5-Tom Donnelly, 4-Luke Romano, 3-Owen Franks, 2-Corey Flynn, 1-Ben Franks. Reserves: 16-Quentin MacDonald, 17-Wyatt Crockett, 18-Sam Whitelock, 19-Luke Whitelock, 20-Willi Heinz, 21-Tom Taylor, 22-Robbie Fruean.