Carter, Read named to start
Wellington - Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has thrown caution to the wind and named All Blacks duo Dan Carter and Kieran Read in the starting side for Saturday's crunch Super Rugby match against the Blues.
Carter will slot in at inside centre, with Colin Slade retaining his starting spot at flyhalf after recovering from a head-knock.
IRB player of the year Read returns to number eight in favour of Luke Whitelock and takes back the captaincy.
Carter and Read played off the bench in the disappointing 16-9 loss to the Hurricanes last week, with Carter still working his way back after taking a six-month sabbatical and number eight Read easing in after concussion-related problems.
Having squandered a gilt-edged chance to take control of the New Zealand conference against the Hurricanes, the Crusaders lie third in the competition and could still crash out of the playoffs with losses to the Blues and the resurgent Highlanders in next week's final round.
"Training this week has felt like the lead up to a final," Blackadder said in a team release.
"There was a huge amount of disappointment and frustration following last week's loss, but we've had to push that aside and put our full focus on this next opportunity.
"We know that the Blues are desperate for the win, but there is absolutely no lack of determination and desire amongst this squad so we can expect to see fireworks on Saturday night."
The Crusaders have been further boosted by the availability of Israel Dagg who returns at fullback after being sidelined with a knee injury suffered during the All Blacks' 3-0 series win over England.
The seven-times champions have also welcomed Fiji wing Nemani Nadolo back from international duty in a strong side for the clash in Christchurch.
"We have the advantage of playing at home ... that home crowd may just be the extra lift that makes the difference in what is going to be an epic battle," Blackadder said.
Though Australia's Waratahs lead the competition ahead of the Durban-based Sharks, all five of New Zealand's teams remain in contention with two rounds to play.
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Substitutes: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl
15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Charles Piutau, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (captain), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sam Prattley, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Francis Saili, 23 George Moala