All Blacks captain Kieran Read returns for Crusaders after fortnight off

All Blacks captain Kieran Read has shaken off the shoulder stinger he's been nursing the past fortnight and will start for the Crusaders on Saturday night.

Read's inclusion at No 8 for the first time since the Crusaders' comprehensive win against the Bulls in Pretoria on May 10 is one of only a few changes to the starting XV for their round 16 clash against the Chiefs in Suva. 

Read, who has only played six matches this season, missed the team's 19-19 draw with the Stormers in Cape Town after taking a blow to the shoulder/neck at training, and likely wouldn't have been risked last week against the Blues, had he not been on a pre-determined All Blacks rest week. 

Openside flanker Matt Todd, who has already completed his required two All Blacks rest weeks, has been given an extra week off, while utility Braydon Ennor swaps places with left-wing George Bridge after coming off the bench the past three matches. 

Only fullback David Havili (850 minutes) and lock Scott Barrett (810) have played more minutes than Todd (809) this season, prompting coach Scott Robertson to ask Billy Harmon to start a third match.

"Massive load. Topped the tackle count the last however many weeks he's played, so it's a chance for us to give Billy Harmon another crack. He deserves it, he's been great at club rugby and every time he's had an opportunity this year," Robertson said.

As for Bridge, it's a rare sight to see the 24-year-old on the bench, given he's had a monopoly on the No 11 jersey since impressing early in his rookie campaign in 2017.

But Robertson wanted to give Ennor a bigger role this week, while also giving Bridge an opportunity to show his finishing ability off the bench, something he might be required to do if he cracks the All Blacks later in the year.

"These guys, we'd love them to be All Blacks at the end of the year and this is their opportunity to cover many positions and to come on and do their job," Robertson said.

"It's been tough on Braydon, because he's one of the form players in Super Rugby at the start of the year, and then obviously Sevu Reece comes along and lights things up, and then your George Bridge comes back from injury."

Centre remains Ennor's prefered position, although he's only donned the No 13 jersey in three of the eight matches he's so far started this year, instead spending the majority of his time on the wings. 

"Braydon can cover outside and the midfield, and he's always a danger when he comes off the bench, he always sparks something. So the role for him to finish matches for us has been exceptional. 

"This week, Bridgy has a chance to finish himself, and also it's an art, coming off the bench and making an impact," Robertson said. 

 The Crusaders on Wednesday arrived in Suva for the Chiefs' "home" game, before holding a significantly shorter training session than they usually would on Thursday, due to temperatures pushing 30degC. 

In addition to the match being a home-coming for wing Sevu Reece and prop George Bower, who are both in the match-day 23, the Crusaders brought along injured wing Manasa Mataele as an ambassador. 

"Sevu's an absolute massive hit here," Robertson said. "Our three Fijian brothers have got a great connection here, as you'd expect. There's a lot of photographs, and cheers and signs for Sevu as we came into Suva and came out of the airport. 

"There's a lot of hype around him, so we've got to make sure we keep eyes on him and he gets the balance right the next few days so he can perform on the field and really produces the form he has been."

The Crusaders have won their last five matches against the Chiefs, including a 31-24 thriller in Suva in 2017.