Revenge will be on the cards for the Crusaders when they take on the Reds in a repeat of last year's Super Rugby final.
Revenge will be on the cards for the Crusaders when they take on the Reds in a repeat of last year's Super Rugby final on Sunday.
The Crusaders are eight points and three places ahead of the Reds on the overall standings, but with the New Zealand conference as tight as it is, the hosts can ill-afford to lose this Round 11 clash.
Of course the same goes for the Reds, who have failed to hit their straps in 2012 with injuries to key personnel and players out of form hampering their season.
But the Queenslanders, who set the tournament alight last year, showed they still have what it takes to win after breaking their Eden Park drought with victory over the Blues last weekend.
Saying that, it seems everyone but the Bulls have found a way to beat the Blues this year, so perhaps we shouldn't read too much into that result.
However, the Crusaders will be wary of a side that they've lost their last three meeting with – albeit all in Brisbane (no Aussie team has beaten the Crusaders in New Zealand since 2004) – and both outfits have made no secret of how much of a grudge match this trans-Tasman clash will be.
In last year's final in Brisbane, the Reds prevailed 18-13 to wreck the Crusaders' hopes of a fairytale end to a traumatic year in which the Christchurch earthquakes forced them to play every game away. Crusaders prop Ben Franks recalls that loss as the “final kick in the guts” in an emotional and physically draining year – and now it's payback.
The seven-time Super Rugby champs once again have a home stadium and in recent weeks have shown they are building towards the form that's made them the most successful Super Rugby franchise.
It's the first of five home games for Todd Blackadder's men in the run to the playoffs and judging by their recent form it's going to take a very good team to beat them.
“The Reds twice last year got the wood on us, but welcome to Christchurch and to our home and that's something we couldn't do last year,” said Blackadder.
“There's nothing better than playing the champions. Last year was last year and we've definitely put that behind us.
“This year provides a whole lot of new opportunities. It's fabulous to be playing Sunday afternoon in Christchurch before a full house – there seems to be an appetite for Sunday afternoon rugby so hopefully someone will look at that.”
Prediction: The Reds will put up a good fight, but we think the Crusaders will deliver the knock-out blow in the final quarter of the match and run away with it. Crusaders by nine!
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland/Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Tom Taylor, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Samuel Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Ryan Crotty, 22 Tom Marshall.
Reds: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Dom Shipperley, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Mike Harris, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Ben Lucas, 9 Will Genia, 8 Scott Higginbotham, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Jake Schatz, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 James Hanson, 1 Greg Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Saia Faingaa, 17 Albert Anae, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Radike Samo, 20 Eddie Quirk, 21 Nick Frisby, 22 Rod Davies.
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)