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Preview: Reds v Crusaders

27th May 2011 15:21

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Cooper v Carter: One of several key match-ups to look forward to

This is it! The Super Rugby showdown we've all been waiting for, when the table-topping Reds tackle the Crusaders in Sunday's Brisbane battle royale.

Round 15 brings some crunch games, but none bigger than this as Australia's best goes up against arguably New Zealand's best in what could be this year's Super Rugby final warm-up.

Victory for the Crusaders will get them within striking distance of New Zealand Conference leaders the Blues, while a win for the Reds will extend their lead at the top of the table.

The Queenslanders have yet to win the southern hemisphere championship and face a major test of their title credentials against the seven-time champion Crusaders.

The Reds, regenerated under the coaching of former Wallaby prop Ewen McKenzie, have now won 11 in a row at Suncorp Stadium and their win over the Crusaders at the same venue last year broke a run of 11 losses against the Kiwi heavyweights.

In the corresponding game last year, the Queenslanders put the Crusaders to the sword with Will Genia and Quade Cooper dominating in a 41-20 bonus point blow out in Brisbane.

The hosts have only lost twice this season and are coming off a bye following a closely fought win against the Blues in Round 13.

The Crusaders, after a run of six wins, dropped two of their last five. They bounced back from a shock loss to the Cheetahs, to record a less than impressive 25-19 win over the Chiefs at home last week.

A full house is expected at Suncorp Stadium, and Reds coach McKenzie said the buzz surrounding the game had been building for weeks along with ticket sales.

"No matter what the circumstances are, our team always thrives on playing at Suncorp Stadium, but to be playing in front of more than 40,000 fans is something the players are really looking forward to," McKenzie said.

"Historically games between the Reds and Crusaders are entertaining affairs and I don't expect Sunday to be any different."

The Reds have produced their best attacking rugby at Suncorp Stadium by scoring 374 points during their current 11-game win streak, an average of 34 points a game.

Reds captain James Horwill described the Crusaders as the benchmark in the competition but said the Reds were looking forward to the challenge.

"The Crusaders have proven they are the standard bearers (of Super Rugby). But we enjoy playing the Crusaders and it's always a tough game," said Horwill. "It's going to be an open-styled running game and one we are looking forward to.

Horwill added that the Reds are braced for their toughest match of the season.

"I don't think there's ever a good time to play the Crusaders," he said.

"I'm pretty sure they'll come out firing and they'll be at their best on the weekend."

Prediction: The Crusaders will need to bring their 'A' game otherwise one feels Richie McCaw and his troops will suffer the same fate as the Blues a fortnight ago. Tough to call. Reds by three!

Reds: 15 Ben Lucas, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (capt), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 James Slipper, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Replacements: 16 James Hanson, 17 Greg Holmes, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Ian Prior, 21 Will Chambers, 22 Dom Shipperley.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Brent Ward, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald/David Hall, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano. 19 Matt Todd/Joe Wheeler, 20 Steve Alfeld, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Ryan Crotty.

Referee: Stu Dickinson

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