The Reds will look to extend Ewen McKenzie's tenure by at least one more game but they're unlikely to come up trumps at the Crusaders.
The Reds will be eager to extend Ewen McKenzie's tenure by at least one more game but they're unlikely to come up trumps against the Crusaders in Christchurch.
The Crusaders head into the play-offs on the back of a strong run of form after delivering an inconsistent string of performances in the early stages of the season. Much like the Sharks last season, the men from Christchurch have found form at the right time and have only felt the sting of defeat just once in the last three months.
While wins over the Chiefs, Highlanders and Blues were impressive, the same cannot be said about narrow victories over the Waratahs and last time out against the Hurricanes.
Regardless, it's hard to poke holes in this Crusaders line-up. With an all-All Black tight five, an industrious loose forward trio, the world's best fly-half outside of a handy number nine, a midfield that has perhaps performed better than expected and a very dangerous back three, one appears to have a near-perfect line-up – and we haven't even got to Richie McCaw on the bench yet.
However, as impressive as the team may be on paper, they have showed this season they can be beaten, but it's questionable as to whether the Reds posses the stock to achieve this.
The Reds may also have a front-row packed with internationals but despite some improvement it's not of the same quality as that of their hosts and if the Crusaders get some early dominance, James Slipper, Saia Faingaa and Greg Holmes could be in for a long night.
The battle of the breakdown will not be as straightforward.
The young trio of Jake Schatz, Liam Gill and Eddie Quirk have wreaked havoc in the loose and the tight on many occasions this year, with Gill having executed the most steals this season (10) by any player while Quirk (201) and Gill (175) both feature among the top 20 tacklers in the tournament. Schatz (113) has certainly stretched his legs a fair bit, coming in with the 15th most runs.
They'll come up against Kieran Read, Matt Todd and George Whitelock who haven't done too badly themselves. Like Schatz, Whitelock (112) features in the top 20 run makers and also cracks the top 20 when it comes to tackles made (172). It's Todd though who has made the most tackles of any man on show in Christchurch, with the number seven tacking down an opponent on 239 occasions. Statistics only tell part of the story though, with Read's all-round impact perhaps not registering with the statisticians, but it most certainly has on the park.
However, it's the showdown between Daniel Carter and Quade Cooper that is the most intriguing.
Two players with very different styles but both whom posses the ability to change the game in an instant. While Carter is more adept at dictating proceedings with his boot and pulling the strings with his expert distribution, Cooper's ability to put his team-mates into space and create opportunities for those around him is his biggest asset.
Off the 31 tries that the Reds have scored this term, Cooper has been involved directly in almost a third, scoring three and registering six assists, and you can be sure he has played a part in many more. Whether he will be provided with sufficient space to weave his magic could prove key.
Carter on the other hand is able to adapt to different situations with more ease and certainly has the cool head and experience you would want in a play-off match.
Carter, like many of the Crusaders players are quite familiar with the knockout phase of the competition but McKenzie's Reds are no strangers themselves having reached the semi-finals last year and having claimed a memorable victory over the Crusaders in the final the year before.
There is unlikely to be a repeat of such a performance this time out, not against this Crusaders side and not at their fortress in Christchurch.
Prediction: This really should be the Crusaders match for the taking – 'Saders by seven.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett. Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Jono Lance, 11 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia (vc), 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Eddie Quirk, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Albert Anae, 17 Jono Owen, 18 Ed O'Donoghue, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Beau Robinson, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Luke Morahan.
Date: Saturday, July 20
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)