Preview: Hurricanes v Crusaders

Date published: June 27 2014

Reaching the business end of the Super Rugby season, the 'Canes must win against the Crusaders in the race for the playoffs.

Reaching the business end of the Super Rugby season, the Hurricanes must win against the Crusaders to stay in the race for the playoffs.

A bye next week in Round 18 means that it's now or never for the 'Canes to close the gap on Todd Blackadder's Crusaders, with four points separating the two of them.

The Hurricanes have by far been Super Rugby's most entertaining side this year and the stats back them up in almost every category.

No one has scored more tries (46 – that's 3.3 per game), or made more clean breaks, carries, metres (7208, nearly 500 more than the 'Tahs) or beaten more defenders. The Hurricanes truly are the epitome of attacking dominance.

Yet all of those impressive stats have only yielded seven wins from 14 matches.

In fact the Hurricanes actually lost their first three matches of the season, putting the pressure on Mark Hammett, before winning four on the bounce and then stuttering from wins to losses over recent rounds.

Only the Brumbies have been as successful at the ruck area, while their scrum and lineout are solid. Inconsistency therefore has been their downfall.

There have been greats wins – putting 60 on the Cheetahs, pipping the Crusaders in Christchurch, smashing the Chiefs in Round 15 – and bitter losses such as the one-point defeat to the Stormers way back at the start of the year in Cape Town.

The hope will be that after racking up a hat-trick against England in Hamilton, Julian Savea is still purring.

The Hurricanes winger has been one of the competition's most effective weapons, with Cory Jane complementing him nicely whether in a black of yellow jersey.

Those Hurricanes backs cannot flourish without good lineout ball, which is where Jeremy Thrush – one of the top lineout takers in Super Rugby – makes his mark. Brad Shields moves into the engine room alongside him to add some physical impetus.

Beauden Barrett is of equal importance. Aaron Cruden justified his selection ahead of Barrett last weekend for the All Blacks, but the youngster has been absolutely flying this season and is the top points scorer in the competition with 192.

Colin Slade is another New Zealand fly-half unlucky to miss out on Test action given his recent showings for the Crusaders.

The men from Christchurch have played some outstanding rugby this season, rebounding from consecutive losses at the start to the Chiefs and Blues.

Since that rough start though the Crusaders have won ten out of their last 11 matches. That's why they lead the New Zealand Conference, although with the Highlanders and Hurricanes in close pursuit.

Kieran Read and Dan Carter are both named on the bench, but the Crusaders will miss Fijian superstar Nemani Nadolo.

One of the breakout stars in Super Rugby in 2014, Nadolo will be on international duty with Fiji in their Rugby World Cup qualifier against the Cook Islands. In recent weeks he has turned out at inside centre and impressed with his goalkicking.

The Crusaders have to stifle the 'Canes at the source to clinch this one, with their lineout proving to be statistically better by 88.3 percent to 86.6.

Sam Whitelock has continued to astound with his performances for the All Blacks and his work-rate in the second row here is key.

Losing Richie McCaw to injury isn't so bad with Matt Todd around to come in at number seven, while Jordan Taufua has impressed on the blindside.

In their most recent defeat against the Sharks, the visitors' pack got the better of the Crusaders in the tight areas to grind them out of the contest, despite having a man sent off.

The suspicion is that the Hurricanes don't quite have the firepower in their eight to hold the Crusaders off and keep Slade quiet – especially considering the consistency of the Crusaders after winning seven of their last eight matches.

Form: The Crusaders have conceded the fewest points of any side in the New Zealand Conference so far – 285 – while marching to nine wins from 13 games. Ten of those have happened in the last 11 rounds. The Hurricanes meanwhile have struggled for consistency but are the only team in the competition to score over 400 points.

Previous Results:
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

Prediction: The slim 29-26 win for the Hurricanes the last time these two met back in March through Alapati Leiua's wonder try underlines just how close this one could be. We fancy the Crusaders to edge another high-scoring contest. Crusaders by three.

Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thursh (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 James Marshall.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Kieran Read, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Rob Thompson.

Date: Saturday, June 28
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19.35 local (07.35 GMT, 08.35 BST)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), Richard Kelly (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)