No place for Zac Guildford in Crusaders squad
Wing Zac Guildford is one of the major casualties of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder's promise to ignore reputations and reward pre-season form.
Blackadder has made a number of surprising selections for Friday night's Super Rugby opener against the Chiefs in Christchurch by omitting Guildford completely from his match-day 23, relegating All Blacks loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett to the reserves and also preferring the less-experienced lock Dominic Bird ahead of All Blacks team-mate Luke Romano.
Another All Black, Tom Taylor, has been left on the bench to allow Tyler Bleyendaal to start at first five-eighth because Colin Slade is nursing a calf strain. Ryan Crotty will partner Reynold Lee-Lo in the midfield.
''The guys have selected themselves on trial form,'' Blackadder said.
Guildford's slide from the limelight means Nafi Tuitavake - who is contracted as a member of the wider training group and was brought down to Christchurch from North Harbour earlier this summer - has been rewarded with the No 11 jersey.
Blackadder said Tuitavake had been preferred because of superior form in the trial games.
Guildford, who has signed a lucrative deal with French club Clermont and will leave New Zealand in the winter, was not selected to start in either of the pre-season games against the Hurricanes and Highlanders.
Wider training group player Rob Thompson, who played for Canterbury last season after leaving Manawatu, has been listed in the reserves ahead of Guildford.
Johnny McNicholl, who scored a hat-trick in last weekend's pre-season game against the Hurricanes in Levin, starts on the right wing.
Rather than shift Richie McCaw to accommodate specialist No 7 Matt Todd, Blackadder has elected to start the All Blacks captain in his preferred openside flanker spot and awarded the other two back row positions to George and Luke Whitelock.
With regular skipper and No 8 Kieran Read being rested from this match, McCaw assumes the captaincy after Ryan Crotty led the side in pre-season matches.
''We just wanted our best players in their best positions,'' Blackadder said in reference to resisting the temptation to shift McCaw from No 7.
''He can play six and eight but he's probably the world's best No 7 and we wanted him in his natural role. Matt Todd has been in sensational form and it's nothing to do with his non-performance, it's more the fact Richie is ready to go.''
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Rey Lee-Lo, Ryan Crotty, Nafi Tuitavake, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw (c), George Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Tim Perry. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Matt Todd, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Rob Thompson.