Their maiden voyage into the competition comes in round three after the postponement of the first two matches due to the team needing to self-isolate.
Head Coach Aaron Mauger recognises the significance of the match and what it means for Pacific Island Rugby.
“This has been 26 years in the making and after recent challenges, it’s good to finally be here. For many it will be their debut and significantly they are getting the opportunity to take to the field and compete, when perhaps an opportunity wouldn’t be available. It will be a very special occasion for them, their families and wider Pacific community."
The Crusaders have set the standard for the past 5 years, but Mauger is excited about the challenge that the Crusaders will bring at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.
“We have worked hard and prepared well in a short amount of time. To go up against the best side in the Super Rugby Pacific competition will be a good test to benchmark ourselves."
The match-day team includes 11 Super Rugby debutantes yet boasts plenty of test match experience.
International powerhouse and Wallaby Test centurion Sekope Kepu will Captain the team in his preferred position of tighthead prop. Anchoring the opposite side of the scrum is fellow Counties Manukau Steelers teammate Ezekiel Lindenmuth, who made the move from the Gallagher Chiefs for the 2022 season.
Luteru Tolai completes the front row and will look to add to the 10 Super Rugby caps he earned with last year’s Trans-Tasman title winners, the Blues.
Southland Stag stalwart Mike McKee will join forces with Manu Samoa lock Samuel Slade to drive the engine room in their Super Rugby debut. Usually seen at flanker, Slade will look to bring some agility to the Moana Pasifika locking stocks.
A back row with 11 international caps will complete the forward pack. ‘Ikale Tahi flanker Solomone Funaki and Manu Samoa hardman Alamanda Motuga will play their first Super Rugby match at 6 and 7 respectively.
Samoan international and former ACT Brumbies Number 8 Henry Time-Stowers also provides valuable experience in the back row.
Ereatara Enari has been named at halfback against the team he had spent the last five years with. The 24-year-old made nine appearances for the Crusaders between 2017 and 2021 and has five Super Rugby titles in his trophy cabinet.
Fellow Hawke’s Bay Magpies first five eighth Lincoln McClutchie will make his much-anticipated Super Rugby Pacific debut outside Enari. Nicknamed ‘the general,’ McClutchie has five provincial rugby campaigns under his belt despite being just 22 years old.
Experienced campaigners Danny Toala and Levi Aumua will combine for a blockbusting midfield duet. Former Blues centre Aumua makes his Super Rugby return after three seasons in Japan and was in electrifying form for the Tasman Mako in 2021.
Neria Fomai stamps his mark on the left wing after an impressive display in the pre-season game against the Gallagher Chiefs. On the opposite wing, Tima Fainga’anuku will add to his four Super Rugby matches against the team that gave him his first Super Rugby contract. Fainga’anuku’s younger brother Leicester is also in the Crusaders squad.
Tasman Mako utility back William Havili, younger brother to David, will play his first Super Rugby match at fullback.
A strategic substitute bench has been selected to provide impact in the latter stages of the match with 35-Test Manu Samoa flanker Jack Lam and 26-Test Wallaby Christian Leali’ifano both primed for a Super Rugby return.
Manu Samoa halfback Jonathan Taumateine and former Gallagher Chiefs prop Joe Apikotoa also boast Super Rugby experience from the bench.
‘Ikale Tahi hooker Samiuela Moli, Otago prop Taukiha’amea Koloamatangi, Counties Manukau Steelers lock Alex McRobbie and ‘Ikale Tahi centre Fine Inisi will all play their first Super Rugby game.
Moana Pasifika round three side:
1: Ezekiel Lindenmuth
2: Luteru Tolai
3: Sekope Kepu
4: Mike McKee (Super Rugby Debut)
5: Samuel Slade (Super Rugby Debut)
6: Solomone Funaki (Super Rugby Debut)
7: Alamanda Motuga (Super Rugby Debut)
8: Henry Time-Stowers
9: Ereatara Enari
10: Lincoln McClutchie (Super Rugby Debut)
11: Neria Fomai (Super Rugby Debut)
12: Danny Toala
13: Levi Aumua
14: Tima Fainga’anuku
15: William Havili (Super Rugby Debut)
Reserves: Samiuela Moli (Super Rugby Debut), Taukiha’amea Koloamatangi (Super Rugby Debut), Joe Apikotoa, Alex McRobbie (Super Rugby Debut), Jack Lam, Jonathan Taumateine, Christian Leali’ifano, Fine Inisi (Super Rugby Debut)