All the action as the Crusaders hosted the Highlanders at AMI Stadium, Christchurch.

The Crusaders cemented their place at the top of the Super Rugby table last week without even having to play a match, and they're now even stronger with the return of All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

After looking good in a 40 minute run out for Counties Manukau last week, Read has been placed straight back into the starting lineup by Crusaders coach Scott Robertson for their first game since the international rugby break against the Highlanders on Friday.

For Read, who underwent spinal surgery in December, it will be his first Super Rugby appearance of the season, and the All Black No 8 said he was excited to get back out on the field for the Crusaders.

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"I'm looking forward to it," said Read. "I've obviously gotta keep the standard up cause they've been going pretty good.

"[I'm] 100 per cent ready to go. Probably won't be doing 80 [minutes] but I'm ready to get the game started."

Read showed no signs of discomfort playing for Counties Manukau last week but admitted after the match that it will take time to get back to his best.

The 32-year-old says getting the start on Friday will be a good opportunity to work towards getting back to full fitness.

"I'm not [back] in terms of match fitness, a wee way off that. But I think starting, you get the opportunity to just empty the tank.

"In terms of the back it actually feels really good. It's a bonus … [there's] no pain at all. It's all good.

"It was actually really good to get that hit out last week and go for it 100 per cent. The back's not the issue, it's gonna be all the other things."

Joining Read in the Crusaders team for Friday's southern derby are 10 All Blacks who will all be returning to Super Rugby action after sweeping France in their three-game series.

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The Crusaders will be facing a Highlanders side who are coming off a 45-22 loss to the Chiefs, something Read says they won't be taking lightly.

"They will be hurting and we're expecting a real big backlash from them from last week.

"It's always a great Southern derby so I'm looking forward to it."

Crusaders team to face the Highlanders:

1 Joe Moody, 2 Andrew Makalio, 3 Owen Franks, 4 Scott Barrett, 5 Sam Whitelock ©, 6 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7 Matt Todd, 8 Kieran Read, 9 Bryn Hall, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 11 George Bridge, 12 Ryan Crotty (vc), 13 Jack Goodhue, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 15 David Havili

Reserves: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele