Crusaders roll selection dice against Cheetahs

OFF YOU GO: Andy Ellis drops to the bench for the Crusaders' clash with the Cheetahs.
OFF YOU GO: Andy Ellis drops to the bench for the Crusaders' clash with the Cheetahs.

Andy Ellis, Owen Franks and Ben Funnell have been rotated on to the Crusaders' bench, while the rise of Kieron Fonotia continues.

Despite halfback Ellis producing his best performance of the season in last weekend's 28-7 win over the Lions in Johannesburg, he has been replaced by Willi Heinz for Sunday morning's Super Rugby match against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

Tighthead prop Owen Franks has been replaced by Nepo Laulala, while skipper and No 8 Kieran Read, who missed the Johannesburg encounter because of concussion, comes back in ahead of Luke Whitelock who has been sent back to New Zealand with a knee injury.

Veteran hooker Corey Flynn will return in place of Ben Funnell.

Shifting All Blacks Ellis and Franks to the bench suggests the Crusaders are expecting the Cheetahs to continue to use fullback Willie le Roux and wing Hennie Daniller to counter-attack and the tourists are wary about running out of energy in the final quarter.

"Andy tightened up a little bit last week with his calf and cramp and that is probably just a reflection of the amount of miles he has been running," assistant coach Aaron Mauger said.

"We are going to get Willi out there and we have every faith he will be the right man for this challenge to start off with."

Relegating Ellis and Franks to the bench also allows the Crusaders coaches to keep their key players fresh ahead of the following weekend's match against the Chiefs in Hamilton.

But they are also rolling the dice because Ellis' enthusiasm has added some fire to his side's shaky attack in recent weeks.

"It's going to be fast game early so it will be good to bring Owen off the bench later on and he will do a great job when we need him later in the game," Mauger said.

"And the same with Willi and Andy - both are very capable.

"Willi gets his turn this week and he has not played a lot of footy over the last three or four weeks."

Centre Fonotia provided some bulk in his impressive starting debut against the Lions and there are hopes his combination with New Brighton clubmate Ryan Crotty flourishes.

As well as scoring a try, Fonotia defended stoically and used his 108kg to straighten the line.

"I thought he added real physicality last week, there were some big shots going in and the kick-chase was really good and we got a few turnovers off that," Crotty noted.

"I was blimmin' excited to be starting out there with Fonnie last week.

"It was pretty special for both of us and our families as well.

"We have been playing footy with each other since we were six years old."

CRUSADERS: Israel Dagg, Johnny McNicholl, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Willi Heinz, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Owen Franks, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Tom Taylor.