All Blacks captain Kieran Read returns for Crusaders against Hurricanes
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Last Updated: 27/03/19 7:18am
Kieran Read will make his long-awaited return on Friday as the Crusaders face the Hurricanes in a game that could go a long way in deciding who tops Super Rugby's New Zealand conference.
The 33-year-old has not played since New Zealand's end-of-season tour last November and was one of the senior international players given an extended break in the off-season with an eye on the Rugby World Cup later this year.
"I can't wait, I feel like I'm in as good nick as I've been in my career," said the All Blacks captain.
"It was the aim this year, it's what the off-season was about. I'm very thankful to have had the time.
"Right now, it's time to get out there and do it on the field."
The Crusaders head the Super Rugby standings on 19 points despite suffering their first loss in more than a year last Saturday when they were beaten 20-12 by the Waratahs in Sydney.
The loss was particularly tough for Scott Robertson's side, coming just eight days after the March 15 shooting at two mosques in their home town of Christchurch.
"We were desperate last week but we were pretty inaccurate a lot of times at key moments," said Crusaders head coach Robertson.
"That's our focus, we made sure we were really clear on what we needed to get better at."
Read's fellow All Blacks Richie Mo'unga and Scott Barrett have also returned to the Crusaders side after they missed the loss in Sydney as part of the national team's player management protocols.
"It means a lot," Robertson said of Read's return. "Obviously his experience, his ability to play well in big games. His calm head, and ability to help out as a captain and leader."
The loss last week allowed the Hurricanes to join the Crusaders on 19 points although John Plumtree's side are second in the New Zealand conference on points differential.
The Hurricanes' only loss this season was to the Crusaders in Christchurch on February 23, when they were totally blown away by the rampant nine-times champions, who raced out to a 31-0 lead shortly after half-time before winning 38-22.
"There's always the anticipation around it from the players and the public," Robertson said of Hurricanes-Crusaders matches.
"They're always pretty brutal and results have gone both ways over the years.
"It's a great date on the calendar and something to look forward to."