Coach Scott Robertson has juggled his Crusaders roster for this week's Brisbane Global Tens, as the defending Super Rugby champions gear up for the new campaign.
Robertson's side, who will host the Chiefs in the opening round on 24th February, have a host of players unavailable for the pre-season tournament.
He couldn't include in his 21-man squad any of the All Blacks who toured Europe at the end of last year, depriving him of 13 of the players who had returned from duty without serious injuries.
Blindside flanker/No 8 Jordan Taufua is recovering from the arm he broke last year, and another backrower, Pete Samu, couldn't be risked. He's going to have to fill in for regular No 8 and All Blacks captain Kieran Read until his return from a back injury until mid-April.
The Crusaders have named an inexperienced squad for the Brisbane tournament with outside back George Bridge the captain.
There are 12 players in the squad who weren't listed in the original squad of Crusaders' contracted players. It is expected that Taufua and Samu will play against the Highlanders in the final warm-up game in Southland next week.
Robertson said: "With the return-to-play protocols with NZ Rugby and the collective agreement, it makes it tricky for us."
Under the collective agreement the All Blacks cannot play for 12 weeks, making them ineligible for this tournament which the Crusaders lost 12-5 in the final to the Chiefs last year.
A proposed deal to allow former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis to guest for the club in the Tens fell through, and the experienced Tim Bateman also had to withdraw because of a cut foot.
The Crusaders are 2.87 to win the Brisbane Global Tens and 3.10 to win Pool C.
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