Struggling Crusaders boosted by return of All Blacks pair

rugby09 May 2024 08:00| © AFP
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Crusaders © Getty Images

Struggling Super Rugby titleholders Crusaders will be boosted by the return of All Blacks front-row forwards Codie Taylor and Tamaiti Williams against Highlanders.

Taylor is back from a sabbatical after playing for New Zealand during last year's World Cup, losing the final to South Africa.

New Zealand teammate Williams returns at loose-head prop after injuring his hamstring on the opening day of the season in February.

"They're both quality rugby players and people," Crusaders head coach Rob Penney said.

"They add huge value when they're around and will add bounce and buoyancy, which is awesome for us at the moment."

Crusaders won seven consecutive Super Rugby titles under Scott Robertson, who now coaches the All Blacks, but have won only twice in 10 matches under Penney this season and are four points outside the top eight playoff places.

Lock Scott Barrett will captain the Crusaders, despite coming off early with a back injury in last weekend's home defeat to the Reds.

Veteran back Johnny McNicholl takes over at full-back from former Wales international Leigh Halfpenny, who was injured on his Super Rugby debut last weekend.

"Leigh got a calf aggravation, so we didn't want to put him out there when he is not at his best," Penney said.

Seventh-placed Highlanders go into the Dunedin clash, dubbed in New Zealand as the "South Island derby" on the back of consecutive wins over Moana Pasifika and the Western Force.

"Irrelevant of where the teams are in the table, the southern derby is a massive occasion for both sides," Penney said.

"This game has a long and deeply-held tradition. It's something we'll do justice to."