Sam Whitelock ready to make his entrance

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Thursday, March 14, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

While he hadn't been playing, Whitelock said he had spent a lot of time in the gym and was hopeful the effort he had put in there would be reflected when he gets onto the field.

Enduring one of the tougher seasons last year he found his energy had been waning towards the end of the All Blacks' campaign, especially at the first couple of steps getting up from breakdowns or off the ground.

"If you take that [energy] away from any player it is frustrating, but the cool thing is that's in the past and I've done the work now to hopefully play better," he said.

Both the Crusaders' and All Blacks' medical teams had overseen his groin injury and while no surgery was required the plan he was on was kept simple and he said as a result of that he was in a good space now.

He said he had been increasingly niggly at training running against the starting team and that had also given him a different look at the preparation side of the game.

Whitelock acknowledged the Highlanders contest would be a tough game, playing under the roof with the aerobic challenges the faster style of game represented, but if he could make a difference he would be happy with that. But these were the sorts of games he wanted to play in.

"They have a really good forward pack and for us we always know it's a massive challenge so we're excited for that and for us as forwards it's an even bigger weekend Owie [Franks] is playing his 150th so we've got to go out and put a performance together for him then hopefully he can play the way he always does," he said.

The Highlanders pack were entitled to go into the game with some confidence, they had been playing well up front and that would be the challenge for the Crusaders.

It wouldn't provide any extra motivation for Whitelock, he had enough going on with returning to play to be worried about that sort of thing.

He would be looking after what he could control and with it being the first game back it would be a case of making sure the lungs weren't blowing too much," he said.