Kieran Read is back for the Crusaders, a boost for a table-topping team who will be hoping to significantly lift their points differential against the Sunwolves, one of the poorest defensive teams in the competition, in Christchurch on Friday.

It will be the first time the Sunwolves, thrashed by 80 points by the Hurricanes in Tokyo in round one, have played in New Zealand, and it is likely to be the start of a very difficult tour.

Following the Crusaders match at AMI Stadium, the battlers from Japan who surprised everyone by beating the Bulls last weekend, take on the Highlanders, Chiefs and Jaguares, the latter in Buenos Aires. Mere survival will probably be the aim for them, otherwise Sanzaar might wonder if they are cutting the wrong teams from next year.

Regardless, the Crusaders game will be a memorable one not only for Read, the All Blacks captain and No8 returning from a wrist injury for his first match of the year, but also for Wyatt Crockett, who will make a record 176th Super Rugby appearance, and wings Seta Tamanivalu and Manasa Mataele, an uncle and nephew partnership which is surely unique for the competition.


"It will be special for their village, special for Fiji and special for us," Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said of the pair. "They have a great relationship, and hopefully they score a few tries."

Veteran prop Crockett, 34, will overtake the now retired Keven Mealamu's former record mark of 175 Super Rugby matches.

"Crocky he has given us so much over the years, with his mind and body. And his soul - he is a great man," Robertson said. "He brings a lot to the team. He has a great nature, a true professional and plays every game like it is his last."

First-five Richie Mo'unga (hand) and centre Jack Goodhue (calf) will join All Black Tamanivalu (hamstring) in returning from injury.

The return of Read is significant but so are those of Mo'unga, Goodhue and Tamanivalu. The unbeaten Crusaders have coped extremely well in their absence, but the reinforcements with tougher matches to come, are timely. Fullback Israel Dagg remains on the sidelines following relatively minor knee surgery.

Crusaders team to play the Sunwolves on Friday night:

1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Ben Funnell
3. Michael Alaalatoa
4. Luke Romano
5. Sam Whitelock (C)
6. Pete Samu
7. Matt Todd
8. Kieran Read
9. Mitchell Drummond
10. Richie Mo'unga
11. Manasa Mataele
12. Tim Bateman
13. Jack Goodhue
14. Seta Tamanivalu
15. David Havili

16. Andrew Makalio
17. Joe Moody
18. Oliver Jager
19. Quinten Strange
20. Whetu Douglas
21. Leon Fukofuka
22. Marty McKenzie
23. George Bridge