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Crusaders clash will provide the marker for the Highlanders

Crusaders clash will provide the marker for the Highlanders

All BlacksFebruary 15, 2024

Highlanders coach Clarke Dermody is looking forward to the side's last preseason game, against traditional rivals the Crusaders, to get a firm fix on where his side is a week out from the start of DHL Super Rugby Pacific.

The Crusaders have returned from their preseason in Ireland and England to play at Methven and Dermody, with his side having already beaten the Hurricanes and Moana Pasifika, measured in his assessment of his side.

"This is a good test of where our game is at before we go. We're happy we will have had three preseason games and a chance to give everyone in the squad a run.

Youthful first five-eighths Cameron Millar has been given the starting role at first five-eighths.

"It's a chance for Cam to run a week as our 10. Rhys [Patchell] has been doing a good job around that. Ajay [Faleafaga] had a chance last week.

"This is a chance for Cam to be the guy, front and centre, and he's done a great job so far in his presenting and game plans. We'll see how that translates on the field."

Dermody was confident that Millar's ankle injury was fully recovered and the medical team had looked after him.

Tighthead prop Saula Ma'u will start in the front row along with hooker Henry Bell and returning All Black Ethan de Groot.

Dermody explained Ma'u's choice ahead of Jermaine Ainsley.

"It's a long season. We know what Jermaine [Ainsley] can do, but we've been really impressed with how Saula has changed his body in the last couple of years to be in a position where he can do what he's doing around the field.

"He's had an outstanding preseason and thought he played one of his better games against Moana Pasifika in the preseason and then added a lot off the bench [against the Hurricanes] so it's a good test for him on Friday with some good heat up front."

De Groot also returns after rejoining the side earlier than was required.

"The big change in Ethan in the last couple of years has been his professional habits. You've seen a big change in his body, but he's also quite giving around the game, especially to the younger props. He's forever helping them out, which is cool to see because as you progress through your career, people help you out, and he's acknowledged that and is helping those younger boys."

Centre Tanielu Tele'a had been with the Blues for four years but hadn't played often because of some significant injuries he had suffered.

"Talking with Leon [MacDonald-Blues coach] last year around him, he was a big fan, but he just needs the opportunity for regular game time, so what we're seeing; abrasive, really physical on D [defence] and you've seen during the weekend some pretty good footwork as well. We're excited with what we've seen so far, but it's only preseason so we'll see how this week goes."

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