Preview: Chiefs v Crusaders

Date published: February 27 2015

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Arguably the game of the Super Rugby weekend comes from Waikato Stadium where the Chiefs play host to the Crusaders on Saturday.

These two New Zealand heavyweights know how important these so-called 'eight pointers' are and if recent meetings are anything to go by, we should expect no more than ten points separating them when referee Mike Fraser blows for full-time. The question is who will be on top at that point.

Todd Blackadder's side had their usual slow start in Round One – no offence to the Rebels who did impress – but bounced back with a crucial victory in Dunedin last week so will enter in good spirits. However, one has to question how they will pierce the line wide out without the likes of Israel Dagg and Nemani Nadolo. It could well come down to who kicks better, Aaron Cruden or Colin Slade.

Dave Rennie meanwhile will hope the return to several international players further lifts his Chiefs side after last week's key victory over the Brumbies.

The last time these team met: These two met twice last season and both were closely-fought affairs, with one away win apiece picked up. The Chiefs won the first game 18-10 in Christchurch which was both's bow in 2014, as tries from Robbie Fruean and James Lowe sealed victory for the Chiefs. The reverse game saw the Crusaders hit back though, winning 18-17 in Hamilton thanks to six Slade penalties.

Players to watch: Always a handful when he backs himself at the base, the return of Augustine Pulu in place of Brad Weber is set to keep the Crusaders honest around the fringes. The All Black will look to assert his physicality on Mitchell Drummond too while we're looking forward to seeing Sonny Bill Williams back alongside Charlie Ngatai. Ben Tameifuna will also want to make a statement in the tighthead jersey.

Opposite them there is a big chance for Jordan Taufua to nail down a starting place in the continued absence of Kieran Read. He comes in for Luke Whitelock while Nepo Laulala has a chance to step up New Zealand's ladder with a big performance against this Chiefs pack. In the backline all eyes will once again be on Colin Slade but he's been in great form these past six months and should go well again.

Team news: The Chiefs are boosted by the return to fitness of Tom Marshall, Sam Cane and Williams, with head coach Rennie shuffling his forward pack and backline. Also included in the XV are Pauliasi Manu, Tameifuna and Brodie Retallick, as Mike Fitzgerald moves to flanker and captain Liam Messam is at number eight, replacing the injured Maama Vaipulu.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders are without Dan Carter and Dagg, who have both been ruled out through injury, while there is a start in the number eight spot for Taufua. Laulala comes into the XV for the suspended Owen Franks and Dagg's replacement at the back is Tom Taylor.

Form: The Chiefs are two from two thus far in 2015 after wins against the Blues and Brumbies while the Crusaders bounced back from their opening round loss to the Rebels with victory at the Highlanders last week. Both though sit behind the Hurricanes in the conference.

Prediction: Unlike last year, we are expecting a home win as Rennie's side boast more game-breakers in their line-up. It could come down to a moment of brilliance and unfortunately for the Crusaders, their rivals have the tools to create from nothing. Chiefs by 6!

Previous results:

2014: Crusaders won 18-17 in Hamilton
2014: Chiefs won 18-10 in Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 20-19 in Hamilton
2013: Crusaders won 43-15 in Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 28-19 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 20-17 in Hamilton
2012: Crusaders won 28-21 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 24-19 in Napier

The teams:

Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (c) 7 Sam Cane, 6 Michael Fitzgerald, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Seta Tamanivalu. 

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Alex Hodgman, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Nathaniel Apa, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Date: Saturday, 28 February
Venue: Waikato Stadium
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06.35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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