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McCaw to lead Crusaders in opener
ESPN Staff
February 19, 2014
Greg Growden and Russell Barwick preview the weekend's Super Rugby action

Richie McCaw will captain the Crusaders into their season-opener against the Chiefs on Friday night. Coach Todd Blackadder also confirmed the All Blacks skipper would start in the No.7 jersey.

"It comes down to leadership, with Kieran Read not being available, and we just wanted our best players in their best positions," coach Todd Blackadder told ONE Sport.

"Richie is a guy that can play six or eight but he's probably the world's best seven so we wanted him in his natural role. Obviously Matt Todd, he's been in sensational form, and that's nothing to do with his non-performance it's just more the fact that Richie's a leader and he's ready to go."

A close tussle for the No.10 jersey has ended with five-eighth Tyler Bleyendaal claiming the spot over All Black Tom Taylor. Blackadder says Bleyendaal was actually competing more seriously with Colin Slade, who misses selection with a calf injury.

"Tyler's deserved that role. He's been in a real fight with Colin Slade, and with him injuring his calf he just hasn't been able to do the preparation this week, but Tyler's selected himself on form over Tom."

Two All Black stars have been overlooked with Zac Guildford missing out as Johnny McNicholl and Nafi Tuitavake take the flanks, and Wyatt Crockett missing out for Tim Perry to slot into the loosehead prop position.

Blackadder is wary of the back-to-back champions and their ability to strike from turnover ball, while the Chiefs' formidable defence will require the Crusaders to be at it's sharpest.

"We know that the Chiefs are a really good side, they've more than proven that and we have a lot of respect for them," he said.

Meanwhile the Chiefs announced Aaron Cruden would be leading the side into the match, with All Blacks centurion Mils Muliaina playing in his first game on New Zealand soil since the 2011 Rugby World Cup. This will also be the first game in Chiefs colours for prop Jamie Mackintosh and centre Robbie Fruen.

"We have a lot of respect for the Crusaders and are excited by this match up. The boys have been training since November and we have been planning since August, so we are really looking forward to the competition starting properly," Chiefs coach Dave Rennie said.

This will also be an opportunity for several young players to make their Super Rugby debut, including Tevita Kolomatangi who will start in the No.7 jersey and Nathan Harris, James Lowe and Matt Symons who get the chance to make their debut off the bench.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg; Johnny McNicholl, Rey Lee-Lo, Ryan Crotty, Nafi Tuitavake; Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis; Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw (captain), George Whitelock; Dominic Bird, Samuel Whitelock; Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Tim Perry. Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Nepo Laulala, Luke Romano, Matt Todd, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Rob Thompson.

Chiefs: Mils Muliaina; Tim Nanai-Williams, Robbie Fruean, Charlie Ngatai, Asaeli Tikoirotuma; Aaron Cruden (captain), Augustine Pulu; Kane Thompson, Tevita Koloamatangi, Liam Messam; Brodie Retallick, Michael Fitzgerald; Ben Tameifuna, Rhys Marshall, Jamie Mackintosh. Replacements: Nathan Harris, Pauliasi Manu, Ben Afeaki, Matt Symons/Liam Squire, Nick Crosswell, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Andrew Horrell/Anton Lienert-Brown, James Lowe

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