Back-row bonus for Reds as Jake Schatz plays again
THE Reds will be boosted by the timely return of No.8 Jake Schatz against the Crusaders in Christchurch tonight.
The equal-bottom placed Queenslanders will need all the help they can get from the Wallaby representative in the away clash against Super Rugby's most successful team of all time.
The inclusion of Schatz at the back of the scrum is the only personnel change coach Richard Graham has made to the starting line-up, which, before last week's bye, lost 35-19 to the Hurricanes.
Schatz comes into the starting side at the expense of recent debutant Adam Korczyk, with Adam Thomson shifting back to blindside flanker.
The Reds will also welcome back Ben Tapuai and Jamie-Jerry Taulagi from injury, with both included on the reserves bench.
Tapuai missed two matches due to a shoulder injury suffered against the Bulls, and Taulagi injured his knee in round one against the Brumbies.
Lolo Fakaosilea is also in line to play just his second game of Super Rugby, after making his debut against the Hurricanes two weeks ago. Fullback Karmichael Hunt and Saia Fainga'a are not available.
"Due to illness since we returned from South Africa, Karmichael hasn't got the miles in his legs where we could be confident he wouldn't suffer a re-strain of his adductor," Graham said.
"With a short block of games to go, we need him fit and available for the majority.
"Saia is slowly recovering from his injury in the Bulls game. He is progressing a little slower than originally anticipated but he is now back running and making good progress.
"We expect a return in the next week or so."
For the Crusaders, Richie McCaw has recovered from concussion and returns to the bench.
The All Blacks captain sat out last weekend's loss to the Hurricanes after being knocked out against the Blues the previous week, but his absence was always expected to be brief.
Dominic Bird returns from the wilderness to take his place in the second row, given an opportunity to add to his 73 minutes this season, as Luke Romano has been rested.
Nepo Laulala will pack down in the front row beside Codie Taylor and Wyatt Crockett, with Alex Hodgman and Joe Moody providing prop cover from the reserves.
The Crusaders will be desperate for a win against the 14th-place Reds, having slipped even further behind in the New Zealand conference standings after defeat against the Hurricanes.
Crusaders v Reds
AMI Stadium 5.35pm (AEST)