Planet Rugby

Preview: Rebels v Crusaders

13th March 2014 05:06

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Luke Whitelock of the Crusaders v Rebels

Crusaders: Under pressure in Melbourne

The under-pressure Crusaders visit Melbourne on Friday to face a Rebels outfit they have struggled against in the past.

Second-last in the standings is not a familiar position for the Crusaders and with a bye week on the horizon, Todd Blackadder's team will be desperate to get a few points on the board.

You would think that a clash against one of Super Rugby's weakest teams would be welcomed by the seven-time champions but the record books show that the Rebels have a habit of giving the men in red a rough time.

Last year the Crusaders needed a handful of late penalties to sneak to a 30-26 win on home soil and they were shocked 28-19 on their visit to Melbourne in 2012.

Without Richie McCaw to lead the way and with Dan Carter not back until July, the Crusaders have struggled to imposed themselves in the dominant fashion of years gone by as they battle to find stability in their starting XV.

This week sees yet another shuffle in their backline as Blackadder looks to Colin Slade to guide the team from the ten jersey. Some consistent goal-kicking would also come in very welcome as Tom Taylor and Tyler Bleyendaal have squandered heaps of points from the kicking tee between them.

Having started their campaign in impressive fashion with a record win over the Cheetahs, the Rebels will look to rebound from a heavy defeat to the Force in Perth last week.

You couldn't ask for a bigger turn around in fortunes and many have suggested that the six changes made by coach Tony McGahan destabilised the young team.

Of course, McGahan doesn't see it that way.

"We've got a lot of players who haven't played much professional rugby, let alone Super Rugby," he said.

"Trying to find out and trying to put players in, there's not a perfect time.

"We didn't want to wait until we were in an injury crisis to put guys in untested. It certainly wasn't the six guys who came on who let us down.

"We were able to watch the game, review it, and leave it there in Perth and really focus on the Crusaders," he added.

Once again McGahan has made several changes to his team, as Tom English returns on the wing and Scott Fuglistaller is added to the back row.

Keep an eye on 19-year-old Sean McMahon, who has impressed so far but will face the toughest test of his credentials yet against a world-class Crusaders loose trio.

Previous results:
2013: Rebels 26-30 Crusaders in Christchurch
2012: Rebels 28-19 Crusaders in Melbourne

Prediction: Given their poor record against the Rebels and their shaky start to the year, it's not easy to back the Crusaders. But we reckon they would have ironed out some their issues by now and Slade at ten could get the points flowing. Crusaders by seven points.

The teams:

Rebels: 15 Jason Woodward, 14 Lachlan Mitchell, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Mitch Inman, 11 Tom English, 10 Bryce Hegarty, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Scott Higginbotham (c), 7 Scott Fuglistaller, 6 Sean McMahon, 5 Luke Jones, 4 Hugh Pyle, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 Pat Leafa, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Shota Horie, 17 Max Lahiff, 18 Paul Alo-Emile, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Colby Fainga'a, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Angus Roberts, 23 Telusa Veainu

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nemani Nadolo.

Date: Friday, March 14
Venue: AAMI Park, Melbourne
Kick-off: 19.40 local (08.40 GMT)
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)

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