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Crusaders expect Highlanders-edge from Sunwolves

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Crusaders assistant coach Jason Ryan said the Sunwolves liked an unstructured game and they were mindful of the influence of former Highlanders coaches Jamie Joseph and Tony Brown while Scott Hansen had them using fast line speed defensively.

"They've got some threats across the park and they're coming off what I thought was a pretty gutsy performance against the Blues, they'll be coming here with a lot of confidence, and good on them," he said.

But the Crusaders will welcome their own surge of confidence with some of the side's veterans returning from injury to feature in selection consideration.

Owen Franks is available for selection for the Crusaders against the Sunwolves this week after playing two club games in recent weeks. Fullback/wing Israel Dagg is another who will be considered for this week.

Ryan said people needed to be aware of the work Franks had done in his rehabilitation. He had woken up each day last year with a rock in his shoe and although people wouldn't have known he had played through a lot of pain.

"I think overall the injury has probably given him longevity in the game so he's dying to get out there, whether it's starting or on the bench, he's ready to go.

"He's definitely better than he was, just his time in running from A to B, he's got more pop in him and he's probably the strongest he's ever been. He's in great condition," he said.

However, fellow All Blacks prop Joe Moody had a setback in his preparations, suffering a broken finger in club rugby while recovering from shoulder surgery, and that lastest injury is likely to keep him out for another two or three weeks.

It was also likely that first five-eighths Richie Mo'unga, who suffered a broken jaw, will be only a week or two away from playing again.

Ryan said the dearth of usually experienced props in the game had been hit by injuries across the country and he felt that was due to the higher speed and heavier collisions in games.

"Front rowers are really only expected to play 40-odd minutes now and there are seven or eight in each squad," he said.

It was a combination of attrition and bad luck in most instances. The broken leg suffered by Aiden Ross of the Chiefs last weekend could have happened to anyone and was just one of those things.

Todd said last weekend's bye had come at a good time for the side after their round-the-world travel to play the Lions and Jaguares.

They were welcoming back more players from injury and Todd said he wasn't sure what the reasons were for the attrition rate across the competition but he felt it proved the value in depth across squads.

It wasn't possible just to rely on 23 players because you knew at some stage you would have to call on all the squad members and you needed to be able to trust they would be able to do the job, he said.

"They say the ball's in play more, there's more contact and more collisions so there's more chance of injury I guess. Potentially there's more fatigue and that's when you get injured," he said.

But that was why they put in so much hard work in the pre-season to get themselves fit enough to take the bumps and bruises.

So far as the Sunwolves were concerned, Todd said they would have prepared to play the New Zealand sides, as they demonstrated against the Blues and they had enough players in their side to skin teams from anywhere.

"We can't knock off at any stage and have to be on our game," he said.