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A slew of returning All Blacks have upped the ante for the NSW Waratahs as they look to close the gap on the second-placed Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Waratahs, sitting sixth on the ladder, have made three changes to their XV that started in the win over the Fijian Drua last time out as they travel to take on a Crusaders side keen to lock down a top-two spot and enjoy home advantage through to at least the semi-finals.
Taleni Seu and Charlie Gamble are the only changes in the starting forwards for the Waratahs.
Seu comes in for Will Harris after overcoming a minor shoulder problem, while Wallabies great Michael Hooper makes way for Gamble.
“Michael Hooper genuinely needs a break to be ready for a play-off run,” NSW coach Darren Coleman said.
“Charlie Gamble will be more than ready for his chance and other than Hoops, we have selected the strongest possible team we can and are going there to win.”
Mosese Tuipulotu, replacing Izaia Perese, will look to make his run-on debut at inside centre at Christchurch’s Orangetheory Stadium.
“It’s a perfect time for us now to test ourselves in one of the hardest road trips in Super Rugby,” Coleman said.
“We have utmost respect for the Crusaders and know we’ll need to play our best match of the season to be in the contest.
“We cant wait.”
Struggling for front-rowers, the New Zealand side will nevertheless welcome back a number of All Blacks who were rested from last round’s 41-7 thumping of Moana Pasifika including five-eighth Richie Mo’unga and hooker Codie Taylor, who will captain the side.
Veteran All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock returns to the starting line-up after recovering from an achilles injury.
The Crusaders only have two fit props left on their roster, leaving staff scrambling for replacements.
Kershawl Sykes-Martin replaces Test prop Joe Moody (ankle) while former Chiefs prop Reuben O’Neill has been named in the reserves after joining the team as injury cover.