Preview: Crusaders v Hurricanes

Date published: May 28 2015

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It truly is last chance saloon for the Crusaders in terms of play-off hopes when they face the Hurricanes at Trafalgar Park in Nelson on Friday.

They currently sit in ninth spot on the overall standings, seven points off the knockout positions with three games left to play in the season, with a loss to the Super Rugby pace-setters meaning their campaign will be deemed a failure by supporters, management, coaches and the players.

How has it come to this? Well, the usual slow start did not help as they lost to the Rebels before Round Three saw them hammered by the Chiefs. That defeat was a frightening one for all involved as the Hamilton outfit ran amok against the seven-time champions, who looked years behind them.

Seven defeats in total have been recorded and four of those have been against New Zealand rivals, which is another reason why they are in this predicament. And with injuries seriously affecting Todd Blackadder's selection this week, it doesn't look good for a possible late-season push.

The Hurricanes meanwhile are riding high at the summit as they continue to impress under coach Chris Boyd, their latest victory coming at the Blues. Unbelievably they have yet to lose on the road this year and because of the situation at the Crusaders, that record looks likely to be extended.

Boyd's men have also won five out of their last six meetings with the Crusaders, which is a superb turnaround from their dire run of 2002 to 2008. They possess real quality at their disposal with stars such as TJ Perenara growing by the game with eight tries to his name, while the emergence of Nehe Milner-Skudder is another positive. Throw in the experience of centre duo Ma'a Nonu and Conrad Smith and they seem to have ideal balance.

Contrast that pairing with the untested David Havili and Robbie Fruean – to go with five All Blacks missing – and the Crusaders are rightly underdogs in a game that rarely disappoints, with high clean-break, run-metres and defenders-beaten statistics from both sides lining up a thrilling derby.

The last time these teams met: The Hurricanes picked up a bonus-point win over their rivals in Round Twelve, with Beauden Barrett, Brad Shields, Reggie Goodes and Blade Thomson crossing in a fine performance in Wellington. The Crusaders had claimed two tries of their own before the break, with Dan Carter and Colin Slade the finishers, but the second-half was all the 'Canes as first Goodes and then Thomson secured the hosts' victory.

Players to watch: The absence of Kieran Read means Matt Todd comes into the starting line-up on the blindside, with Jordan Taufua switching to eight. Todd never lets the Crusaders down and is unfortunate not to have more All Black caps than he does as he is international quality. He will relish going up against Brad Shields and Ardie Savea on Friday while, as mentioned earlier, the hosts' centre combination looks rather worrying.

For the Hurricanes, the return of Conrad Smith to the XV comes as a boost while Otere Black gets another chance to impress at fly-half alongside the dangerous TJ Perenara. Also keep an eye on Blade Thomson, who is in his favoured position of number eight, and will be keen to continue his good recent form against the Crusaders.

Team news: Having equalled Tana Umaga's record as the most capped Hurricane last week, Ma'a Nonu will become the sole holder of that record this week. The match will be Nonu’s 123rd for the Hurricanes, while team-mate Jeremy Thrush will also equal Andrew Hore’s record as the most capped forward, having played 106 matches. The 'Canes welcome back Reggie Goodes, Ben Franks, Conrad Smith and Matt Proctor to the matchday 23.

Meanwhile, All Black playmaker Dan Carter will start at fly-half for the Crusaders as head coach Todd Blackadder makes seven changes to the side that faced the Waratahs last weekend. Lock Sam Whitelock, number eight Kieran Read and centre Ryan Crotty have all been ruled out by head knocks.

Form: Inconsistency has been the problem for the Crusaders this season as they have won successive games just once, in Round Five and Six. They have lost four of their last six outings in 2015 and are hanging by a thread, looking up at conference and overall standings rivals claiming key wins.

The Hurricanes are in a very different mood entering this match after scoring their twelfth win from thirteen games last week, against the Blues in Auckland. Even without the injured Beauden Barrett, they still possess the tools to unlock defences and are by no means winning ugly in 2015.

Prediction: With their injuries, it's hard to see the Crusaders winning this one so we are going for the high-flying Hurricanes to take it by 10!

Previous results:

2015: Hurricanes won 29-23 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 16-9 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 29-26 in Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 25-17 in Christchurch
2013: Hurricanes won 29-28 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 23-22 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 42-14 in Wellington

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Jimmy Tupou, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Alex Hodgman.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.

Hurricanes: 15 James Marshall, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Conrad Smith, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Otere Black, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Blade Thomson, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 James Broadhurst, 4 Jeremy Thrush (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Reggie Goodes.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu’u, 17 Ben May, 18 Ben Franks, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Victor Vito, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Rey Lee-Lo, 23 Matt Proctor.

Date: Friday, May 29
Venue: Trafalgar Park, Nelson
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Kane McBride, Richard Kelly
TMO: Chris Wratt

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