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Preview: Crusaders v Highlanders

19th April 2013 07:53

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Zac Guildford in the clear for Crusaders

Starting chance: Zac Guildford

Saturday's first of four derbies kick off in Christchurch where the ninth-placed Crusaders tackle Super Rugby basement franchise the Highlanders.

Asked pre-tournament the majority would have most probably predicted these two sides to be battling at the top of New Zealand's conference.

However things have not gone as planned for the duo as Saturday's hosts have been beset with injuries while the Highlanders are worse.

Jamie Joseph was this week given the backing of Highlanders general manager Roger Clark but it remains to be seen whether that is the old kiss of death. After spending on the likes of Brad Thorn, Ma'a Nonu and Tony Woodcock, a zero from seven record could not have been imagined by the board in Dunedin. That unfortunately is the case and their most recent loss against the Brumbies - their fifth on home soil in 2013 - reinforced how much of a pickle they are in.

What they won't want mentioning is that it's now ten-straight losses dating back to June.

Climbing out of the mire does not get any easier this week and wouldn't it just be the icing on the cake if old boy Israel Dagg kicked them while they are down. The Crusaders full-back was back in top form last weekend - despite being on the losing side - and is a key threat.

Another player Todd Blackadder can be impressed by is young back-row Jordan Taufua, who again made an impact off the bench last week and has a big future. It seems a new batch of Crusaders is on its way as Luke Whitelock and Dominic Bird learn their trade.

Taufua doesn't yet get his starting chance as Matt Todd returns to solidify the back-row while Sam Whitelock is also back, alongside Zac Guildford, who is in for Adam Whitelock. That means four Whitelocks are again in the squad while cousin Ben Funnell is on the bench.

For the Highlanders there is no Kade Poki or Buxton Popuali'i so Tony Ensor gets a run on the wing while Jason Emery faces a defensive test up against Robbie Fruean. It doesn't get any easier for Joseph too as number eight Mose Tuiali'i has sustained a knee injury ahead of a clash that could lead to them being kicked whilst they are down. When it rains it pours.

Prediction: The hosts will have too much on home soil. The Crusaders to win by 12!

The teams:

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

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Tony Ensor, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 TJ Ioane, 7 John Hardie, 6 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Andrew Hore (capt), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: Liam Coltman, 17 Ma'afu Fia, 18 Jamie Mackintosh, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaka Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Jake Paringatai.

Date: Saturday, April 20
Kick-off: 19:35 (08:35 BST, 07:35 GMT)
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Sheldon Eden-Whaitiri (New Zealand)
Television match official: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

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PosTeamPPts
1Sharks831
2Brumbies825
3Chiefs825
4Waratahs824
5Western Force823
6Crusaders822
7Hurricanes821
8Highlanders719
9Bulls919
10Lions916
11Blues816
12Reds816
13Melbourne Rebels816
14Stormers810
15Cheetahs99