All Blacks Israel Dagg and Owen Franks are on the brink of welcome comebacks for the Crusaders.
Fullback Dagg is returning from a knee problem, while tighthead prop Franks is coming back from Achilles surgery. After turning out for their respective club sides over the past couple of weeks, the pair will be named in the Crusaders team to play the Sunwolves in Christchurch on Saturday.
Franks' return in particular is significant because of the injuries to New Zealand front rowers this season.
The Chiefs have lost all six of their front line props from the start of the season, while looseheads Wyatt Crockett and Joe Moody are in the Crusaders' casualty ward.
Crockett is recovering from concussion suffered against the Lions in Johannesburg several weeks ago, while Moody suffered a broken finger while playing club rugby recently. The Crusaders had a bye last weekend.
Moody, ranked the best loosehead in the country, has a splint on the finger but is likely to return for the Crusaders before the tests against France in June, according to Crusaders scrum coach Jason Ryan.
Franks, who has played 95 tests, was forced to play through the pain barrier last year before his surgery but now is reaping the benefits.
"People need to understand the injury he had," Ryan said. "If you can imagine waking up with a rock in your shoe and walking on it every day like he was last year ... he played through a bit of pain but no one would have known.
"He's rehabbed incredibly well. He was still in a moon boot and doing binding drills in the gym – that's how dedicated he is. Overall the injury has probably given him longevity in the game, so whether it's starting or on the bench he's raring to go."
While centre Jack Goodhue is still a couple of weeks away due to a hamstring strain, first-five Richie Mo'unga is only "a week or two away" after recovering from a broken jaw, according to Ryan.
All Blacks skipper and No8 Kieran Read has still to make his comeback from back surgery, but is likely to make a key contribution when he and the rest of what Scott Robertson has described as his "cavalry" return.
The Crusaders are second on the New Zealand conference table behind the Hurricanes and fourth overall – well placed to begin a concerted move to the playoffs.
"We've collected a few points so we're in the mix and have got a few players back," said loose forward Matt Todd. "A few players have stepped up and performed well which is creating good pressure in the squad. We're getting to that time when you've got to put consistent performances in and start getting into that playoff mix."
The Sunwolves, last of 15 teams on the table, will have travelled to Christchurch with some confidence after pushing the Blues in Tokyo last weekend, but are likely to encounter a very different challenge against a Crusaders team who will seek to physically dominate them up front from the first whistle.
"There's clearly a Highlander influence there," Ryan said of the Sunwolves, coached by Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown. "They're willing to play from anywhere and they like unstructured play. Scott Hansen has them bring a lot of line speed defensively. They're coming here off a pretty gutsy performance against the Blues."
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