Kieran Read will play his first Super Rugby match of the season against the Highlanders on Friday after recovering from back surgery. Photo: Martin Hunter / www.photosport.nz

WELLINGTON - All Blacks captain Kieran Read will return to the Canterbury Crusaders lineup for their Super Rugby clash against the Otago Highlanders on Friday after recovering from back surgery.

The 32-year-old back-rower underwent a medical procedure late last year to correct a bulging disc in his back that was causing chronic leg pain. Read, who trained with the All Blacks in June and made himself a "pain in the butt" according to coach Steve Hansen, played a warm-up match for provincial side Counties-Manukau last week and is now ready to step up to Super Rugby level.

He will start at number eight for the clash at Rugby League Park, which has been temporarily renamed "Wyatt Crockett Stadium" in honour of the loosehead prop, who will play his 200th Super Rugby match on Friday. The 35-year-old Crockett has already announced this season would be his last in Super Rugby. He made his debut in 2006 and has won three titles in the southern hemisphere competition.

"I am honoured to have represented a team that I am immensely proud of for the past 13 years," Crockett, who also earned 71 All Blacks caps, said on Wednesday. "And to have the opportunity to reach 200 games at home, in front of my family and friends, is something I know I'll look back on fondly at the end of my Super Rugby career. I'm humbled by the support I've received this season and throughout my rugby career, which has made each game I've played for this club just as memorable and special as the last."

Crockett is already the most-capped player in Super Rugby and consequently will be the first to reach 200 appearances in the competition. "To play so many matches at this level is testament to his professionalism and strength of character," SANZAAR CEO, Andy Marinos, said in a statement. "He has been an outstanding servant and ambassador to the game of rugby and, of course, to the Crusaders since his Super Rugby debut in 2006. We wish him all the very best on Friday against the Highlanders."

The Crusaders top the Super Rugby table on 54 points and are looking strong favourites to defend their title, with Read's return ahead of the playoffs a massive boost to their chances. Victory over the Highlanders would guarantee them top seeding and home advantage throughout the playoffs, which start in two weeks.

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