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Preview: Crusaders v Sharks

25th March 2011 09:44

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Crusaders Sharks Twickenham Super Rugby

London calling: Crusaders v Sharks

History will be made when the Crusaders meet the Sharks at Twickenham on Sunday, in what is shaping up to be one of the highlights of the 2011 Super Rugby season.

For the first time ever in the tournament's 15-year history, a Super Rugby match will be played outside New Zealand, Australia and South Africa at a venue where both sides can certainly count on a small army of support in the UK and hopefully their team colours will be well-represented in the stands.

The Crusaders are in rampant form at the moment with some big victories behind their name, and have upped a gear since their opening round loss to the Blues. After the disaster in Christchurch, the team rallied behind their beleaguered city to deliver some resounding performances.

And this encounter against a Sharks side - stung by a disappointing defeat against the Chiefs last week after cruising to four straight victories - is set to be one of the most fiercely-contested of the weekend.

While the Crusaders have been playing their home games at smaller local venues since the earthquake that struck Christchurch, this game will not only be raising funds for a worthy cause, but present an opportunity for the teams to play in front of a massive crowd with 55,000 set to watch the two southern hemisphere teams in action.

However, the Durban-based Sharks will almost certainly be suffering the effects of travel. They have been on the road for three consecutive weeks, playing in Perth, Melbourne and Hamilton where the Chiefs inflicted their first loss of the season - before heading to London.

Besides jet lag the South Africans will also have to battle history because they have won just one of their last five matches against the Crusaders who are beginning to put some spit and polish into their game after the disruption and distraction caused by the earthquake.

Three successive wins - over the Waratahs 33-18, the Brumbies 52-10 and the Highlanders 44-13 - have put them on top of the New Zealand conference and second overall.

However, Sharks skipper John Smit is relishing the opportunity of playing the Crusaders at a neutral venue in London rather than at the daunting AMI Stadium.

"Certainly, this game is probably less intimidating that playing in Christchurch, that's another small thing," said Smit.

"You have to feel for the Crusaders, they're going to be playing the majority of their games away from home, not really in front of their home crowds very much, and when they are, they're in the small regions.

"But since the earthquake struck, they've showed huge amounts of character and I think that is because of what their city and families and friends have gone through.

"But yes, playing at a neutral venue is surely easier than facing them with the crusade of horses that comes around before the game and the smoke that hits the field."

Prediction: Based on the two sides' form in their last two outings - the Crusaders have to be favourites.

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett .
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Kahn Fotuali'i, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Adam Whitelock.

The Sharks:15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (C).
Replacements: 16 Eugene van Staden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Gerhard Mostert, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 JP Pietersen.

Date: Sunday, March 27
Venue: Twickenham, London
Kick-off: 16.00 BST (15.00 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (New Zealand)

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