Kieran Read is available again for the Crusaders and with the defending champions eyeing a crucial match against the Hurricanes in Wellington after a tough couple of weeks, the All Black skipper's return could hardly have come at a better time.
The Crusaders were out of sorts in losing 20-12 against the Waratahs in Sydney at the weekend, a loss which snapped their 19-game winning streak (not including their cancelled match against the Highlanders which is counted as a draw).
With Scott Barrett rested and Owen Franks a late withdrawal due to a shoulder niggle, the Crusaders lacked leadership at the Sydney Cricket Ground and Read's calm voice from the back of the scrum will be crucial as they seek to bounce back.
Barrett and Franks are also set to be available, as is midfielder Jack Goodhue, who is about to play his sixth game in seven weeks. The latter in particular will be important as the Crusaders seek to restrict a talented backline led by Beauden Barrett, but Read's availability may be the most crucial.
It will be Read's first game since November last year when he started in the All Blacks victory over Italy in Rome. His late start has been designed to mitigate the wear and tear on his body and mind during World Cup year, his last for the All Blacks and Crusaders.
Crusaders forwards coach Jason Ryan confirmed Read's availability today. "He's trained really well," Ryan said. "He's been unbelievable for us off the field in getting the boys ready to play each week. He's on his toes, he's fresh and he's looking forward to it. If he gets an opportunity he'll definitely be an influence for us.
"His back is feeling good and he's feeling good mentally as well which is just as important."
Ryan said the Crusaders were looking forward to putting right an unacceptable performance against the Waratahs.
"It was a bad day at the office but we've had to learn from it. We have to be better. That's not at Crusaders standard. We've been really honest about that and we'll be better for it this week."
The Crusaders easily accounted for the Hurricanes in Christchurch in round two but the visitors were missing first-five Barrett, with midfielder Ngani Laumape and halfback TJ Perenara named on the reserves bench. Since then the Hurricanes haven't lost and are equal with the Crusaders on 19 competition points.
"They [Hurricanes] are a different team but so are we," Ryan said. "We're looking forward to this game, it's come at a good time for us, we believe. It's another good New Zealand derby and it's something we need."
Asked why, he said: "To put a stake in the ground and see what we're really about. We've had a bit of adversity, as you know. Not all of it was planned. We lost a bit of rhythm from that [cancelled] game and it's a chance for us to bounce back and see what we're made of."
Loosehead prop Joe Moody, recovering from an ankle sprain, is probably another week away, with loose forward Tom Sanders definitely out after dislocating a shoulder in Sydney.