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Last Updated: 30/07/20 10:52am
Sam Whitelock was not supposed to be involved in Super Rugby at all this year but on Saturday he will join an elite group of Crusaders by playing his 150th game for the team.
The 31-year-old lock had received dispensation to miss Super Rugby and play in Japan this year but the novel coronavirus outbreak saw him return home early.
Linking up again with the Crusaders, Whitelock is the seventh Crusader to reach 150 Super Rugby caps for the team.
“It’s been awesome,” Whitelock told TVNZ on Thursday.
“For myself, a real special [memory] was being here with my three brothers [Adam, George and Luke].
“We’ve been through some pretty challenging times but it’s been enjoyable the whole time.”
Whitelock, who has played 117 Tests for the All Blacks, said he would auction his jersey from the game to raise money for a rural wellbeing group that supports farmers.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has made three changes to the side with with George Bower starting at loosehead prop and Sione Havili in at No 6. Tom Sanders shifts to No 8 in place of the injured Whetu Douglas.
In the backs there is one change with Mitchell Drummond starting at scrum-half and and Bryn Hall on the bench.
The Crusaders face a Chiefs side who have lost a club record seven successive games across both Super Rugby and New Zealand’s domestic “Aotearoa” competition.
However, the six Super Rugby Aotearoa losses suffered by the Chief have been by an average margin of just five points and in three of the games Warren Gatland’s side were in a strong position to win in the final minutes.
“The Chiefs … could have won their last three games,” Crusaders assistant coach Scott Hansen told reporters in Christchurch.
“It’s a tough competition, possibly the toughest in the world and that’s good.
“We [have an] understanding of the importance of this weekend. We know what we’re walking into.”
For the Chiefs, Aaron Cruden will run out in jersey No 10 for his 100th cap, shifting rookie Kaleb Trask to the bench.
The only other changes to the elusive backline will see Shaun Stevenson return to the starting fifteen on the right wing, with Sean Wainui shifting to the left wing following Solomon Alaimalo’s shoulder injury last weekend against the Blues.
Amongst the reinforcements off the bench, All Black prop Angus Ta’avao returns for his first Super Rugby Aotearoa fixture and will be joined by 20-year-old lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi who returns after being sidelined with concussion. Waikato loose forward Simon Parker is set to make his mark in Super Rugby named on the bench in jersey 20 for his debut.
Gatland said he is calling for his side to deliver a performance they can be proud of.
He said: “Last weekend I was exceptionally proud of the efforts from the boys. This weekend we need to again strive for a full 80-minute performance. The Crusaders are a class act and will be hurting from the weekend but as a team we are ready for the challenge.”
“We have plenty to celebrate this weekend; Aaron’s impending milestone, a potential debut for Simon and we have both Angus and Naitoa returning from injury. We hope our fans come out to celebrate alongside us for our final 2020 home match.”
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Alex Nankivell, 11 Sean Wainui, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Brad Weber, 1 Reuben O’Neill, 2 Bradley Slater, 3 Nepo Laulala, 4 Tupou Vaa’i, 5 Mitchell Brown, 6 Lachlan Boshier, 7 Sam Cane (c), 8 Pita Gus Sowakula
Replacements: 16 Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17 Ollie Norris, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20 Simon Parker, 21 Lisati Milo-Harris, 22 Kaleb Trask, 23 Quinn Tupaea
Crusaders: 15 Will Jordan, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Fetuli Paea, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 1 George Bower, 2 Codie Taylor (c), 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 4 Sam Whitelock, 5 Mitchell Dunshea, 6 Sione Havili, 7 Tom Christie, 8 Tom Sanders.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Isileli Tu’ungafasi, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Brett Cameron, 23 Leicester Fainga’anuku