Preview: Crusaders v Reds

Date published: May 6 2015

Richie McCaw and Dan Carter are set to play their last game in Christchurch for the Crusaders in Friday's Super Rugby clash with the Reds.

With the seven-time champions playing their only other remaining 'home' game in Nelson, and a home play-off seemingly now out of reach, this week is likely to mark the end of an era for Super Rugby's most successful city.

Carter is heading to Racing-Métro in France after the World Cup and while McCaw is yet to confirm his retirement it is understood this will be his last game at AMI Stadium in a red jersey.

"Being a Cantabrian and growing up in Christchurch, to play for Canterbury and the Crusaders has meant so much to me," Carter told local media on Monday.

"To think it is probably going to be my last game on home soil means it will be a pretty emotional time throughout the week."

The fact that McCaw will start from the bench after an enforced concussion layoff and Carter will not wear 10 – he will play at inside centre with Colin Slade continuing at fly-half – is an illustration of how far off script this season has gone for the iconic All Blacks duo and their team.

Sitting in ninth place and with a difficult set of fixtures left – including trips to the defending champions as well as the Aussie conference-leading Brumbies interspersed with clashes against the pace-setting Hurricanes and away to the resurgent Blues – if the Crusaders are to have any hoping of continuing their proud record of featuring in the playoffs every year since 2002, a bonus-point win over the 2011 champions is non-negotiable.

The good news for hosts is that the Reds have been woeful this year, and have just two wins to show from their ten games, both against fellow strugglers (the Force and Cheetahs).

The Crusaders have won three in a row against the Reds since defeat in the final in 2011, scoring nearly 37 points per game.

In typical fashion, McCaw has attempted to deflect attention away from himself, calling on his team to focus on the task at hand and not get swept up by emotions if they are to save their season.

The All Blacks skipper believes that trying too hard has been the Crusaders biggest problem as they try to climb out of their slump in results.

"That's not always the solution," he said.

"We've got a team here that's a bit like that. Trying extra hard to get it sorted. When you're all not quite nailing it, and our performances have been a bit like that, it can happen.

"Looking back at the Blues game, I perhaps relaxed a little bit more rather than trying too hard. And we had a better performance as a team and that makes it easier for the individuals.

"Sometimes the games go your way, sometimes they don't and if you try and force it then sometimes you go out of the system and away from what's best for the team."

The last time these teams met: The Crusaders outscored their hosts six tries to four as they ran rampant to win 57-29 in Brisbane in Round 13 last year. It was the most points ever scored in a Super Rugby match at Suncorp Stadium as the Reds faded after leading 17-16 at half-time with Crusaders wings Nemani Nadolo and Johnny McNicholl finishing with two tries each.

Players to watch: Having scored a brace against the Reds on Mother’s Day last year, Nemani Nadolo has flown his mom out from Brisbane for the clash. His brother, Reds flyer Chris Kuridrani, will miss the game because of a virus, but Nadolo will be facing many of his mates from his youth in Australia. Also keep an eye on Dominic Bird, who gets a rare chance to start this season having been relegated to club rugby and is apparently raring to go. Look out for a Kiwi in the Reds ranks in the form of Adam Thomson, who tops the competition charts for lineout steals this season.

Team news: With McCaw on the bench, Todd Blackadder has made three changes in total to the Crusaders starting XV, with Nafi Tuitavake coming onto the wing, while Bird and Nepo Laulala start in the pack at lock and tighthead respectively as All Blacks Luke Romano and Owen Franks are rested. Jone Macilai could make his first Super Rugby appearance off the bench.

Reds coach Richard Graham has made just one change as number eight Jake Schatz will make his return from a four-week injury layoff this week as he slots straight back into the starting side. He comes into the XV at the expense of recent debutant Adam Korczyk, with Adam Thomson shifting back to blindside flanker. The Reds also welcome back Ben Tapuai and Jamie-Jerry Taulagi from injury, with both included in the reserves.

Form: Both these sides have lost three of their last four matches. The Crusaders were beaten 29-23 by the Hurricanes last weekend having bagged a much-needed win over the Blues at home the week before. The Red are coming off a bye week having lost 35-19 at home to the Hurricanes in Round 11.

Predictions: An aggregate score of 110-49 in favour of the Crusaders in the last three clashes between these sides does not bode well for the Reds. We'll back the home side to give DC and King Richie a day to remember. Crusaders to win by 20, with a bonus point.

Previous results:
2014: Crusaders won 57-29 in Brisbane
2013: Crusaders won 38-9 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 15-11 in Christchurch
2011: Reds won 18-13  (Final) in Brisbane
2011: Reds won 17-16 in Brisbane

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.

Reds: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.

Date: Friday, May 8
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off:  19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), Paul Williams (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)