Crusaders name side for Saturday match-up

Mitchell Drummond will captain the Crusaders in the second half against the Hurricanes. Photos:...
Mitchell Drummond will captain the Crusaders in the second half against the Hurricanes. Photos: Getty Images
The Crusaders have named a team of 36 for their first pre-season game against the Hurricanes at Ashburton Showgrounds on Saturday.

The match will be the earliest the Crusaders have ever started pre-season due to the opening round of Super Rugby beginning on January 31.

Half-back Mitchell Drummond admits ramping campaign preparations up this early has a different feel.

"It seems to get earlier and earlier every year. We're still in the cricket season," said Drummond.

"We got two weeks off over Christmas and New Year, so we were back in on the sixth of January and two weeks later we're playing rugby. It's pretty scary when you think about it like that."

Drummond will captain the Crusaders second half team on Saturday.

Coach Scott Robertson has named a 15-man side for the first half and separate 15-man side for the second half of Saturday's match. He has also named a six-strong bench, which will cover any needed replacements.

Robertson also says the earlier start to proceedings has come with added challenges, but is confident the squad are getting up to speed.

"Things were crammed in," said Robertson. 

"We've probably doubled up on a little bit of the learning and a bit of the training without breaking the boys at all.

"It's about keeping them fresh, but getting the balance of pushing them right on the line so their bodies crank."

However, he hasn't let the earlier start stop the team from enjoying the Christmas break.

"Yeah, a couple of brandy snaps boys, but make sure you've been for a run beforehand.

"We talk about earning the opportunity to have a good time and they would have had a great time over Christmas because they did the hard work before," he said.

Manasa Mataele. Photo: Getty Images
Manasa Mataele. Photo: Getty Images
Meanwhile, the beginning of preseason couldn't come soon enough for Fijian winger Manasa Mataele who has been side-lined since round two of last year's campaign when he suffered a serious knee injury against the Hurricanes.

He will now make his long awaited return in the No 14 jersey.

"Most of the last eight months has been me by myself in the gym. It's just good to be back out there with the boys and doing everything without being limited," said Mataele.

While the time on the side-line came with its mental and physical hurdles, the 23-year-old says he has taken plenty of lessons from being outside the normal team environment.

"It's probably the best thing that has happened to me.

"I've learnt more about myself than I have before, about how I can push myself individually without anyone else being there."

Mataele was also sporting a slimmer looking frame at Thursday's training session. He says in the past nutrition has been a week point, but the time to grow off the field has seen him come into 2020 in great shape, dropping from 106kg to 103kg.

"I've really learnt how to eat properly, recover well and push myself to the limit ... I'm feeling light, feeling fast and feeling strong too."

  • Crusaders v Hurricanes, 4pm kick off at the Ashburton Showgrounds.

Crusaders team to play Hurricanes:
First half: Isi Tuungafasi 1, Brodie McAlistair 2, Oliver Jager 3, Mitchell Dunshea 4, Cullen Grace 5, Tom Sanders 6, Billy Harmon 7, Whetu Douglas (c) 8, Eratara Enari 9, Brett Cameron 10, Leicester Faingaanuku 11, Dallas McLeod 12, Braydon Ennor 13, Manasa Mataele 14, Will Jordan 15.
Second half: Harry Allan 1, Andrew Makalio 2, Michael Alaalatoa 3, Ethan Roots 4, Alex Ainsley 5, Samipeni Finau 6, Tom Christie 7, Sione Havili 8, Mitchell Drummond (c) 9, Fergus Burke 10, Fetuli Paea 11, Rameka Poihipi 12, Inga Finau 13, Fasi Finau 14, Dan Hollinshead 15.
Replacements: Conan O'Donnell, Luke Romano, Sam Darry, Isaiah Punivai, Chay Fihaki, George Bower.