WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Wellington Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has rushed all six of the players who appeared for the All Blacks in last week’s third test against the British and Irish Lions into his side for their crucial Super Rugby clash with the Canterbury Crusaders.
Fullback Jordie Barrett, winger Julian Savea, centre Ngani Laumape, flyhalf Beauden Barrett, scrumhalf TJ Perenara and openside flanker Ardie Savea will all start for the Hurricanes in their regular season finale on Saturday.
Four of the six -- the Barrett brothers, Julian Savea and Laumape -- all started against the Lions at Eden Park, while Ardie Savea and Perenara came off the bench in the 15-15 stalemate that left the series drawn at 1-1.
Blindside flanker Vaea Fifita, who made his All Blacks debut as a replacement against Samoa last month, and 2015 Rugby World Cup winning winger Nehe Milner-Skudder will also start in a strong lineup at Wellington Regional Stadium.
The Crusaders, however, have opted to manage the return of several of their frontline All Blacks, with the entire test starting front row of props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, and hooker Codie Taylor not even in the matchday squad.
”They had a big load during the tests,“ Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan told reporters in Christchurch. ”The demanding set-piece battle during the Lions series means it just makes sense to freshen them up.
“We have got to look after them, there are still some big games to come, obviously.”
All Blacks captain Kieran Read, who had barely played at all this season after wrist surgery and then a broken thumb before he played the Lions tests, will start the match.
Both sides have already qualified for the playoffs but there is still plenty at stake.
The Hurricanes are currently fifth in the standings on 54 points and if they win, will only need to make a comparatively short trip to Canberra next week for a quarter-final against the ACT Brumbies.
One spot below the Hurricanes, the Chiefs (53) take on the Brumbies in Hamilton earlier on Saturday with the team that finishes sixth facing a journey to Cape Town to meet the Stormers next week.
The Crusaders are unbeaten so far this season with 14 wins and top the overall standings on 63 points but could still be overtaken by South Africa’s Lions, who have 61 points and face the Sharks in the final game of the regular season.
The top qualifier is guaranteed home advantage throughout the playoffs.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien