Preview: Hurricanes v Crusaders

Date published: May 1 2015

The Hurricanes could move a staggering 18 points clear of the Crusaders with victory over their conference rivals in Wellington on Saturday.

Such has been their impressive form the 'Canes are on the verge of something special, with the Chiefs their main challenger to top the ladder in New Zealand. In contrast the Crusaders are facing up to the unthinkable right now – a possible season without play-off rugby.

Todd Blackadder's charges have simply been too inconsistent as their five defeats have left them battling for fifth and sixth place on the overall table. But as is their wont, they are capable of overcoming anyone on their day so don't rule them out for glory just yet.

What will worry them this week though is the pace the 'Canes are playing at, the fact the men in yellow have not lost back-to-back fixtures (in one season) in Wellington since 2013 and that Chris Boyd's team have prevailed in four of the last five games between the pair.

Worse still for the Crusaders is that they remain without Israel Dagg although they do have form men in Jordan Taufua and Nemani Nadolo leading well. But with equally impressive attacking threats against them, there's a huge amount of excitement over a derby that rarely disappoints.

The last time these team met: Blade Thomson was the hero for the Hurricanes as they won 16-9 in Wellington. Despite Beauden Barrett missing two conversion attempts, he did land two penalties to help the hosts take four points. Colin Slade landed three penalties in reply.

Players to watch: As we will mention in the team news section, the 'Canes are boosted by the returns of Nehe Milner-Skudder and Cory Jane. The latter needs a big game to keep talk of World Cup bolters to a minimum and up against Crusaders star Nemani Nadolo, he has his work cut out. There is also a mouth-watering match-up on the flank where Ardie Savea and Matt Todd go toe-to-toe. Both are quality opensides at different points in their respective careers, with the latter aged 27 and possibly approaching a now or never mindset on the international front. Todd is of Test match quality and knows a strong run-in is a must if he's to oust Sam Cane on the plane to England.

Team news: The Hurricanes have recalled Nehe Milner-Skudder at full-back and Cory Jane on the right wing for this derby clash. Blade Thomson returns on the bench and is joined by both James Marshall and Matt Proctor, who started in Milner-Skudder and Jane's spots last week.

Meanwhile, the Crusaders have made just two changes to the XV that beat the Blues last weekend. Matt Todd will start on the openside, after Richie McCaw was ruled out following a head knock. Experienced scrum-half Andy Ellis steps back into the side in place of Mitchell Drummond.

Form: Eight wins from nine for the pace-setting Hurricanes as they bounced back from defeat to the Waratahs with victory at the Reds last week. They have played some brilliant rugby in 2015 as stars like TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett continue to mature as internationals while young guns such as Nehe Milner-Skudder and Ardie Savea catch eye. Led by Ma'a Nonu, Jeremy Thrush and Conrad Smith, they are a threat.

The Crusaders have in contrast been hot and cold this season with five wins and five defeats leaving them with a job to do in the run-in to the play-offs. They last won in Wellington in April 2012.

Prediction: Another closely-fought game between these two sides in contrasting positions. We fancy the Hurricanes to win by 5!

Previous results:

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

The teams:

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

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 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 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Date: Saturday, May 2
Venue: Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT, 17:35 AEST, 09:35 SAST)
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Shane McDermott (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)