Preview: Crusaders v Rebels

Date published: February 12 2015

The Crusaders will be determined to put a disappointing pre-season behind them when they host the Melbourne Rebels at AMI Stadium on Friday.

On the back of a loss to the Reds, the heavyweights enter their 20th Super Rugby campaign hoping to start better than they have in the past.

Last year it was a home defeat to the Chiefs that kicked off their season and it won't be plain sailing this time around against the Rebels.

The Australian side came from behind to beat the Highlanders last week in their final warm-up game and they will be looking to the likes of Scott Higginbotham and Sean McMahon to carry the charge. Backs Tamati Ellison and Mike Harris will be just as influential in their campaign.

"We've had two solid performances and lots of players putting their hands up, so that’s the main thing we take from our pre-season," said Rebels head coach Tony McGahan, who names the quartet in his starting XV as they look to start the season as they did in 2014, with a win.

A boost to the Rebels is that notoriously slow starters the Crusaders are minus All Black trio Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg, which means they seem to be missing an X factor in their XV, with a great deal resting on how Tom Taylor and Kieron Fonotia go in midfield.

The last time these team met: It was the boot of Taylor that did the damage to the Rebels last time out as his six penalties and extras of hooker Ben Funnell's try saw the Crusaders win 25-19 in Melbourne. Scott Fuglistaller claimed a late consolation for the Rebels.

Players to watch: It's hard not to look past captain Matt Todd, who is set for another strong campaign in the red jersey. At openside with Richie McCaw and Luke Whitelock alongside, Todd's carrying power and speed is an underrated quality. On the Rebels side we'll plump for Scott Higginbotham as he needs a big Super Rugby campaign if he is to nail down a place in the Wallabies squad for the World Cup in England.

Team news: Dan Carter is named at fly-half with Taylor at centre alongside Kieron Fonotia. The latter is preferred in midfield over Robbie Fruean who wears number fourteen while Colin Slade is full-back. The absence of Willi Heinz and Andy Ellis mean Mitchell Drummond is handed a big change at scrum-half while in the pack Funnell and Joe Moody are ahead of Codie Taylor and Wyatt Crockett who warm the bench.

Prediction: It won't be as easy as the bookmakers suggest as the Rebels will give the Crusaders a tough examination. But, with home field advantage the men from Christchurch should have enough firepower up front to start the campaign with a win. Crusaders by eight points!

Previous results:

2014: Crusaders won 25-19 in Melbourne
2013: Crusaders won 30-26 in Christchurch
2012: Rebels won 28-19 in Melbourne

The teams:

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

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Lopeti Timani, 4 Luke Jones, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Cruze Ah-Nau, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Sam Jeffries, 20 Scott Fuglistaller, 21 Luke Burgess, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Sefanaia Naivalu.

Date: Friday, February 13
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Nick Briant
Assistant Referees: Shane McDermott, Brandon Pickerill
TMO: Aaron Paterson