Crusaders could face former Kiwi rival Shaun Treeby as Stormers shore up squad
The top of the table Crusaders could meet a familiar face when they host the Stormers on Saturday with former Highlanders midfielder Shaun Treeby called up to the South Africans' squad for their season-defining New Zealand tour.
Treeby, who played 50 games for the Highlanders between 2011 and 2015, signed a short-term contract in early April after the Stormers lost international midfielders Damian de Allende, Juan de Jongh and Huw Jones to long-term injuries.
The 28-year-old Treeby is yet to play for his new side but Stormers coach Robbie Fleck has added the Wellington Lions stalwart to his squad for a daunting three-game New Zealand visit to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.
Treeby has not played Super Rugby since he was part of the Highlanders' champion 2015 squad, but he continued to turn out for Wellington in the national provincial championship last year.
It would be a huge call to select Treeby for his Stormers debut against the unbeaten Crusaders, but South African news sites have noted that the Kiwi's "local knowledge and experience could be handy" downunder.
The Stormers will run out at AMI Stadium determined to get back into the winners' circle after suffering their first defeat of the season, 29-16, to the Lions last week.
But they still sit on top of the first South African conference - 16 points ahead of the Bulls.
While the Stormers will almost certainly qualify for the playoffs, the New Zealand sojourn could be a pointer to their chances of advancing beyond the first sudden death stage.
Fleck has already led his team to victory over a New Zealand franchise with a stirring 34-26 win over the Chiefs in Cape Town in the most exciting non-New Zealand derby match of the competition.
"As a group, we enjoy touring together and we know that we will be seriously tested against some quality teams in New Zealand," Fleck told South Africa's io.co.za website.
"The players have embraced the challenge, and we are keen to make the most of our time together on tour, which should bring us even closer together."
While the Crusaders have home advantage with the Stormers facing the gruelling journey from South Africa, Scott Robertson's side will be facing their toughest challenge since their 30-27 round two victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin.
The Stormers may have lost some classy centres but there were still plenty of big names at the business class end of the airplane, including Springboks locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth and flanker Siya Kolisi, who captains the Stormers from the openside.
Robertson rested some players in 50-3 Good Friday romp over the Sunwolves, including outstanding blindside flanker Jordan Taufua and test stars Owen Franks and Scott Barrett, who have had big workloads.
The week's break might also give All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty a chance to shake off the ankle injury he sustained against the Waratahs before the bye week.
All Blacks captain Kieran Read also seemed confident of backing up for a second time in the Super Rugby campaign.
The Crusaders No 8 played 49 minutes against the Sunwolves in his comeback from off-season wrist surgery following a 40-minute outing for his University club the previous weekend.
"I was a little bit apprehensive, I guess, last week and things went really well.
"The same [on Friday against the Sunwolves]. The rehab has been great. It has been good," Read said.
Wing Seta Tamanivalu is also expected to be available despite being sent for a head injury assessment after being sinbinned following an aerial challenge.
Tamanivalu lay on the turf after clashing with fullback Kotaro Matsushima.
But Robertson said later Tamanivalu was "actually OK" and "was just lying there".
The Crusaders' All Blacks loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett made his record 176th Super Rugby appearance against the Sunwolves and was presented with a ceremonial sword by former Crusaders and All Blacks captain Reuben Thorne.
Crockett and test teammate Joe Moody will be vying to pack down against the Stormers' man mountain tightead Frans Malherbe on Saturday.
AT A GLANCE
The Stormers touring squad
Forwards: Nizaam Carr, Jan de Klerk, Pieter-Steph du Toit, Eben Etzebeth, JC Janse van Rensburg, Oli Kebble, Siya Kolisi (c), Wilco Louw, Frans Malherbe, Bongi Mbonambi, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Ramone Samuels, Alistair Vermaak, Chris van Zyl, Cobus Wiese
Backs: Bjorn Basson, Kurt Coleman, Dan du Plessis, Robert du Preez, Dewaldt Duvenage, Cheslin Kolbe, Dan Kriel, Dillyn Leyds, SP Marais, Shaun Treeby, Jano Vermaak, EW Viljoen