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 , September 19
Gloucester vs Exeter19:45
Saturday , September 20
Sale vs London Welsh14:00
London Irish vs Saracens15:00
Harlequins vs Wasps15:00
Bath vs Leicester15:15
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle vs Northampton14:00
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Friday , September 19
Munster vs Zebre19:30
Cardiff Blues vs Ulster19:35
Connacht vs Leinster19:35
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs Glasgow14:40
Scarlets vs Benetton Treviso18:00
Sunday , September 21
Ospreys vs Edinburgh16:00
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Friday , September 19
Brive vs Toulon18:00
Saturday , September 20
Racing Metro Paris vs Toulouse18:00
La Rochelle vs Bordeaux-Begles18:00
Clermont Auvergne vs Lyon18:00
Castres vs Oyonnax18:00
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:00
Montpellier vs Stade Francais18:00
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Friday , September 19
Lions vs Pumas19:10
Saturday , September 20
Western Province vs Griquas15:00
Blue Bulls vs Sharks17:05
Eastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
ITM Cup
Wednesday, September 17
Southland vs Tasman19:35
Thursday , September 18
Northland vs Taranaki19:35
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
FixtureDetails
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 14
Wasps 20 - 16 NorthamptonWasps vs Northampton Report
Newcastle 18 - 20 London IrishNewcastle vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Cardiff Blues 12 - 33 GlasgowCardiff Blues vs Glasgow Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 27 - 21 MontpellierBordeaux-Begles vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
ITM Cup
Waikato 26 - 21 Counties ManukauWaikato vs Counties Manukau Report
Hawkes Bay 41 - 0 Otago
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 13
Gloucester 34 - 27 Sale SharksGloucester vs Sale Sharks Report
Bath 53 - 26 London WelshBath vs London Welsh Report
Exeter 20 - 24 LeicesterExeter vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Rugby Championship
New Zealand 14 - 10 South AfricaNew Zealand vs South Africa Report
Australia 32 - 25 ArgentinaAustralia vs Argentina Report
More Rugby Championship results
Guinness PRO12
Leinster 42 - 12 ScarletsLeinster vs Scarlets Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Toulouse 9 - 13 Clermont AuvergneToulouse vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Racing Metro Paris 28 - 11 LyonRacing Metro Paris vs Lyon Report
Bayonne 23 - 6 Brive
Oyonnax 40 - 27 Grenoble
Toulon 24 - 28 Stade FrancaisToulon vs Stade Francais Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Griquas 31 - 27 PumasGriquas vs Pumas Report
Cheetahs 30 - 30 SharksCheetahs vs Sharks Report
Lions 35 - 33 Western ProvinceLions vs Western Province Report
More Currie Cup results
ITM Cup
Bay Of Plenty 12 - 27 AucklandBay Of Plenty vs Auckland Report
Southland 36 - 34 Northland
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 12
Harlequins 0 - 39 SaracensHarlequins vs Saracens Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Benetton Treviso 10 - 21 MunsterBenetton Treviso vs Munster Report
Newport Gwent D'gons 15 - 17 Ospreys
More Guinness PRO12 results
Aviva Premiership Table
PosTeamPPts
1Saracens29
2Bath29
3Leicester Tigers29
4Exeter26
5Northampton26