Tasman halfback and new wider training group member Lualua Vailoaloa has been included in the Crusaders party that departs for Australia tomorrow to complete the side's pre-season programme. Vailoaloa, who joined the team in training on Tuesday, is one of 31 players who will undertake the trip, which includes matches against the Western Force in Melbourne on Saturday, and then against the NSW Waratahs in the Rotomahana Challenge in Sydney on Thursday February 7.
"Bringing Lua to Australia with us will help get him up to speed with our method by getting him involved," Crusaders coach Robbie Deans says. "While Andy [Ellis] is making good progress in his rehabilitation, and looks like he might be back a lot sooner than we initially anticipated, assimilating Lua into the group properly will add to our depth and give us more options in the position."
Ellis will be joining the team for the Sydney leg of the tour, with Vailoaloa one of three halfbacks who could play on the trip alongside regular squad members Kahn Fotuali'i and Steve Alfeld. Deans won't name a starting XV for Saturday night's game in Melbourne until closer to kick off, but a similar feel is expected to the combination that faced the Hurricanes, with a number of different options being tested.
That means 26 players will be used, with some alternation between positions. "These games are valuable opportunities to test different combinations, while also gaining more playing time under the new experimental law variations. We intend to maximize the opportunity," Deans says.
Saturday night's outing at Olympic Park - the home of the NRL rugby league champion Melbourne Storm side - represents the Crusaders' third successive visit to the Victorian capital to play the Western Australians.
Last year, the Crusaders won 28-14 at MC Labour Park, the home of AFL side Carlton, although the game was tight, with the scores locked 14-14 heading into the final quarter. This weekend's game will also be played over four quarters, although it will only be of 80-minutes duration, as opposed to the 100 minutes the Crusaders and Hurricanes played for during last Friday's trial in Motueka.
The Crusaders touring party is: Leon MacDonald, Sean Maitland, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Caleb Ralph, Stephen Brett, Steve Alfeld, Nasi Manu, George Whitelock, Michael Paterson, Ross Filipo, Brad Thorn, Ben Franks, Ti'i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett, Scott Hamilton, Kahn Fotuali'i, Kieran Read, Greg Somerville, Campbell Johnstone, Ali Williams, Richard McCaw, Mose Tuiali'i, Steve Fualau, Lualua Vailoaloa, Hamish Gard, Corey Flynn, Reuben Thorne, Daniel Carter, Andrew Ellis, Kade Poki.