Round Seven of Super Rugby kicks-off with a New Zealand derby as the Crusaders host the Hurricanes, with both teams hungry for points.
Round Seven of Super Rugby kicks-off with another New Zealand derby as the Crusaders host the Hurricanes, with both teams desperate for points.
AMI Stadium is the venue for this clash as the attack-minded 'Canes look to inflict a second home loss of 2014 on Todd Blackadder's men.
The Hurricanes have scored 91 points in the last two outings while the Crusaders have amassed only 73 in all four of their games so one gets a sense this one will see two styles collide. The question is though, will the home pack do the necessary damage as defence ekes out a win.
It has been a long time, possibly the first ever, since we did not know what Crusaders side would turn up for a match but that is where things stand presently after two defeats in their opening four games. All four of those clashes have seen the winner prevail by eleven points or less, with their biggest defeat coming against the attacking potency of the Blues, before they edged out the Stormers and Rebels in recent weekends.
Whether they have turned the corner is difficult to assess and while we're sure many will say the Chiefs were fortunate to win by eight in that opening match – a long-range intercept for replacement James Lowe ultimately sealing the victory – the seven-time Super Rugby champions don't look the force they once were.
That issue has subsequently seen Blackadder change things up in his backline as three players have worn number ten in their opening games, with Colin Slade retained this week following the bye. He continues alongside Andy Ellis in what is an unchanged backline from the Rebels' scalp. In fact there is just one alteration to the 23 as loosehead prop Daniel Lienert-Brown comes in for Tim Perry, who is nursing a hamstring strain, on the bench.
As mentioned, their opponents this week enter Christchurch on the back of improved performances which saw them beat the Cheetahs before going down 35-31 at the Highlanders. Unlike the Crusaders, they have had no such trouble scoring tries but as always, their underbelly is a concern so the spotlight will again focus on how they front up.
The last time these two outfits met at AMI Stadium was in June last year as the Crusaders won 25-17, but that was a backline that included the likes of Daniel Carter, Tom Marshall and Zac Guildford. The loss of Marshall's underrated work has been a bigger blow than possibly expected while Johnny McNicholl has not yet blossomed into the wing many were expecting, with All Black full-back Israel Dagg also out of form thus far in black and red.
If, and this also goes for Dagg due to Ben Smith's excellent form for the Highlanders, they do not buck up their ideas, missing out on bigger and better things will happen.
Prediction: While they have looked much better of late, the 'Canes are not the Chiefs and winning at AMI will be a task too big in size at the current time. The home pack should have enough and while they won't score many, Taylor will kick enough. Crusaders by 10!
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieran Fonotia, 23 Nemani Nadolo.
Hurricanes: 15 Andre Taylor, 14 Alapati Leiua, 13 Conrad Smith (c), 12 Tim Bateman, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Jack Lam, 6 Faifili Levave, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Chris Eves, 18 John Schwalger, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Ardie Savea, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Matt Proctor, 23 Marty Banks.
Date: Friday, March 28
Venue: AMI Stadium
Kickoff: 19:35 (local, 06:35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Chris Watt (New Zealand)