Planet Rugby

Preview: Highlanders v Crusaders

27th June 2013 19:54

Share:

zac guildford crusaders hosea gear highlanders

Ton up: Hosea Gear

Saturday's global action begins with the suffering Highlanders hosting wildcard contenders the Crusaders in Dunedin.

Enduring a season even worse than Super Rugby newcomers the Kings, 2013 will be quickly forgotten about by the Highlanders franchise moving forward.

Two victories out of 13 matches see them rooted to the bottom of the Super Rugby table, although their six losing bonus points have to some extent softened the blow.

So where has it all gone wrong? The Highlanders' attack after all is surprisingly impressive, with their total of 6640 metres made the second highest in the league and nobody has beaten more defenders - 341. The problem has certainly not been their scrum either, which boasts the best success rate in Super Rugby at 96 per cent.

A run of not winning a single match until May - eight games before their 25-22 victory over the Sharks - left the Highlanders firmly in the mire. Narrow losses, 33-34 against the Reds and 18-19 against the Force, have not helped their chances either.

Add into the depressing run of defeats eight yellow cards, two more than any other side, and the Highlanders at times have been their own worst enemy.

Two players though have shone through the dross - Ben Smith and Hosea Gear.

Enjoying a stellar season, Smith was impressive for the All Blacks in their Test series against France and only Charles Piutau has made more metres than Smith's 1189 this year.

Gear on the other hand will play his 100th Super Rugby game against the Crusaders.

Gear made his debut for the Highlanders in 2012 and has had a remarkable run, after making his league debut for the Hurricanes against the Chiefs in 2004. With 36 tries in Super Rugby and 42 tries at provincial level, he has proven himself as one of the best finishers in the game.

"I have seen Hosea develop into one of the best players in the world in his position," said Highlanders' Head Coach Jamie Joseph.

"He is one of the hardest workers both on and off the field. He always brings a professional approach to the Highlanders team environment and is highly respected by all the guys. Our team would like to congratulate him for reaching this remarkable milestone".

The Crusaders on the other hand are in the midst of an indifferent season of their own.

Second in the New Zealand Conference and still in contention for a Wildcard spot, their record of eight wins and five losses is not quite at the standard we expect from the seven-time champions.

Their opening day 34-15 loss to the Blues knocked them firmly on their backs and from then on they have often looked dazed.

Big wins have come over the Bulls, Blues and away from home against the Brumbies, but losses to the Hurricanes, Sharks and Force have been irregular.

Perhaps it is been down to the absence of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, or the misplaced form of Israel Dagg.

Their attack has been respectable, coming up right in the middle of the pack for all key statistics apart from defenders beaten, where their total of 222 is someway off the Highlanders' 341.

In terms of the set-piece, the Crusaders remain a top-five team statistically and their proficiency at the breakdown is shared at the top at 96 per cent.

For whatever reason, the spark and cutting edge that has served them so well has been misplaced. Being so off the boil going forward leaves them open to an upset, as has been the case this season.

Despite his stint leading the All Blacks, the biggest surprise of Todd Blackadder's selection to face the Highlanders is the omission of first-choice number eight Kieran Read.

Read has been named amongst the replacements alongside fellow internationals Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano and Corey Flynn while there's no place in the matchday squad for All Blacks tighthead prop Owen Franks.

Locks Tom Donnelly and Sam Whitelock make up the second row while the backs have a more familiar look with Tom Taylor moving to inside centre and Ryan Crotty wearing the number 13 jersey while Robbie Fruean is also included on the bench.

Prediction: Eager to secure their wildcard spot, a Crusaders victory appears on the cards in Dunedin. Crusaders by 6.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Fumaki Tanaka, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 Elliot Dixon, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Andrew Hore (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Jake Paringatai, 19 TJ Ioane, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Liam Sopoaga, 22 Ma'a Nonu.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Luke Romano, 19 Kieran Read, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Robbie Fruean, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Date: Saturday, June 29
Kick-off: 19:35 local (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand). Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Keith Brown (New Zealand)

Forthcoming Fixtures
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 21
Harlequins vs Sale SharksHarlequins vs Sale Sharks Preview
Newcastle Falcons vs GloucesterNewcastle Falcons vs Gloucester Preview
Saturday , November 22
Exeter vs WaspsExeter vs Wasps Preview
London Irish vs BathLondon Irish vs Bath Preview
Sunday , November 23
Saracens vs NorthamptonSaracens vs Northampton Preview
London Welsh vs Leicester TigersLondon Welsh vs Leicester Tigers Preview
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
International Match
Saturday , November 22
Italy vs South AfricaItaly vs South Africa Preview
Scotland vs TongaScotland vs Tonga Preview
Ireland vs AustraliaIreland vs Australia Preview
Wales vs New ZealandWales vs New Zealand Preview
England vs SamoaEngland vs Samoa Preview
France vs ArgentinaFrance vs Argentina Preview
More International Match fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , November 21
Dragons vs MunsterDragons vs Munster Preview
Scarlets vs Glasgow WarriorsScarlets vs Glasgow Warriors Preview
Connacht vs ZebreConnacht vs Zebre Preview
Ulster vs OspreysUlster vs Ospreys Preview
Sunday , November 23
Treviso vs LeinsterTreviso vs Leinster Preview
Edinburgh vs Cardiff BluesEdinburgh vs Cardiff Blues Preview
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , November 16
Leicester Tigers 21 - 21 SaracensLeicester Tigers vs Saracens Report
Wasps 71 - 7 London WelshWasps vs London Welsh Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Ireland 49 - 7 GeorgiaIreland vs Georgia Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , November 15
Sale Sharks 36 - 8 London IrishSale Sharks vs London Irish Report
Bath 23 - 14 Newcastle FalconsBath vs Newcastle Falcons Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Romania 13 - 18 JapanRomania vs Japan Report
France 29 - 26 AustraliaFrance vs Australia Report
Scotland 16 - 24 New ZealandScotland vs New Zealand Report
England 28 - 31 South AfricaEngland vs South Africa Report
Tonga 40 - 12 USATonga vs USA Report
Wales 17 - 13 FijiWales vs Fiji Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , November 14
Gloucester 15 - 22 HarlequinsGloucester vs Harlequins Report
Northampton 18 - 24 ExeterNorthampton vs Exeter Report
More Aviva Premiership results
International Match
Italy 18 - 20 ArgentinaItaly vs Argentina Report
Canada 13 - 23 SamoaCanada vs Samoa Report
More International Match results
LV= Cup
Cardiff Blues 19 - 13 Scarlets
Ospreys 35 - 51 DragonsOspreys vs Dragons Report
Sunday , November 9
Wasps 43 - 22 London Irish
London Welsh 9 - 18 Gloucester
Leicester 29 - 13 Sale SharksLeicester vs Sale Sharks Report
More LV= Cup results
International Match
Saturday , November 8
Italy 24 - 13 SamoaItaly vs Samoa Report
Wales 28 - 33 AustraliaWales vs Australia Report
England 21 - 24 New ZealandEngland vs New Zealand Report
Georgia 9 - 23 TongaGeorgia vs Tonga Report
Ireland 29 - 15 South AfricaIreland vs South Africa Report
More International Match results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Northampton726
2Exeter724
3Bath724
4Saracens724
5Wasps720