Coach Todd Blackadder admits he was surprised how fit Zac Guildford, on the bench for tomorrow night's match against the Southern Kings at AMI Stadium, was when he returned to training with the Crusaders this week.
Guildford - cocooned from the media yesterday - was "fit and ready to go'', said Blackadder.
"If anything [his time out] has worked really well for him in that he's had a good conditioning window and he's nice and sharp and he just wants to play.''
Guildford had returned more confident, he said. "Obviously the journey he's gone through has really helped his self esteem, and he's come back to the team really confident, and you can just see that in his body language.''
The coaches were really pleased with the conditioning work he'd done, and Guildford knew his role well within the team, knew where he had to be, and had done his homework, he said.
While Guildford is back, the Crusaders will lose another All Black, Dan Carter, for the South African tour - for which they fly out only eight hours or so after the ref whistles fulltime in the Kings match.
Carter's wife Honor is expecting their first child while the team is in South Africa.
Blackadder feels he has good cover with Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor, although Taylor is unlikely to be fit for next week's match against the Stormers in Cape Town. Andy Ellis and Ryan Crotty also gave cover at 10, he said.
The coach has made two changes to his 15 to play the new South African franchise, with All Black lock Luke Romano, back from injury, replacing Dom Bird, and Willi Heinz in for Andy Ellis at halfback.
Neither change was because of form, he emphasised. Bird, promoted from NPC rugby this season, had played really well and on form would start, and Heinz deserved an opportunity, he said.
Hooker Codie Taylor is on the bench with a chance of making his Crusaders' debut because of Ben Funnell's suspension.
Blackadder resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes for a match the Crusaders should win.
"Often when we've made changes we've made a whole raft of changes, and they haven't always worked and felt really disjointed,'' he said.
One intangible hangs over the match. The Crusaders' camp has been affected by a stomach bug the last two weeks, but Blackadder has his fingers crossed they're all over it now.By Nick Tolerton of the Christchurch Star