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Preview:<hash>Crusaders</hash> v Hurricanes

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Thursday, June 28, 2012    Sportal.co.nz    Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: AMI Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday June 30 @ 1935

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 22; Crusaders 15, Hurricanes 4, drawn 2, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: April 21, 2012 (Wellington, round nine) - Hurricanes 14-42 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Crusaders suffered some injury blows during the test series, with Daniel Carter out for at least this week after injuring a hamstring in the second test, while Kieran Read is still recovering from some heavy head knocks. Israel Dagg, who damaged an ankle in the third test, was on day-to-day watch during the week and didn't make the cut. The Hurricanes suffered a major blow in their hit-out against the Reds when TJ Perenara suffered a season-ending ankle fracture which was complicated by a post-operative blood clot, and Victor Vito is still bothered the knee injury picked up in the first test. Cory Jane remains sidelined with the ankle problem he suffered six weeks back.

FORM:
Crusaders:
Round 11: beat Reds 15-11 (h)
Round 12: lost to Rebels 19-28 (a)
Round 13: beat Blues 59-12 (h)
Round 14: bye
Round 15: beat Highlanders 51-18 (h)

Hurricanes:
Round 11: beat Blues 35-19 (h)
Round 12: beat Highlanders 26-20 (a)
Round 13: lost to Brumbies 25-37 (h)
Round 14: beat Rebels 66-24 (h)
Round 15: beat Waratahs 33-12 (a)

The Crusaders were just hooking into their work when the test break came around, so how they back up will be a matter of real interest to all other contenders over the next three weeks. After that shock loss to the Rebels, the Crusaders took it out on two other sides in their own conference and put 50 points on each - a rare feat in Super rugby. Now firmly entrenched in fourth spot, although with only slim hopes of catching the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference, the Crusaders are still looking good for at least one home playoff match. They had plenty of players involved in the test series, so the key men are well in match trim, but injuries to some of their stars must be worrying Todd Blackadder just now.

The Hurricanes went into the break following two five-point wins over Australian teams in sixth spot, helped along by the Sharks suffering a completely unexpected 10-point loss at Johannesburg. They remain the most dangerous attacking team in the competition, nearly 40 points ahead of their nearest rivals (the Crusaders) on the scoring charts and, with eight, they have collected at least three more bonus points than any other side. The defence, which had been a bit soft at times in recent matches, hardened up at Sydney when they spent long periods penned in their own quarter but gave up no tries. The Hurricanes have already achieved a lot more than most expected in 2012, but they have the potential to add to that record in the next few weeks.

WHO'S HOT: Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett will play his 100th match on Saturday night, joining an elite band of colleagues to have reached the milestone. After being named in the test squad but seeing no action, he will surely be all fire and brimstone in this match. The reserve hooker, Quentin MacDonald, has played little rugby but when pitched into the Highlanders game as an early replacement he looked like a man who had been on top of his game all year. A highly impressive all-round effort showed him to be an ideal squad player - always ready to deliver when called upon. Tom Taylor has impressed this season and his goal-kicking has been as good as anyone can offer, so Carter's absence should not be a crippling blow. Whether the home backline is quite as effective remains to be seen, but the Crusaders have a more than handy man filling the No 10 jersey.

Brad Shields was something of a surprise selection in the wider All Black training group, although he missed the cut when the team was trimmed down. His form for the Hurricanes, generally off the bench, has been strong enough but he faces a new challenge this week with a start at No 8 and his decision-making will have to be quick and accurate if the scrum comes under pressure. It's another step in his learning process, and one that will be closely watched. Chris Eaton also has a job to do at set piece; like Shields, he will need to make good decisions under pressure this week. Conrad Smith was outstanding during the test series and his calm control will be a big factor in the Hurricanes performance; there are few better players in world rugby and whatever attacking threats his team pose will certainly be built on the centre's ability to open a tight defensive screen.

WE THINK: Although the Hurricanes are a dangerous attacking force, they need a modicum of good ball to operate and this will be the area that determines the game. Last time they met the Crusaders smashed the forward exchanges in a near-perfect first 40, deciding the game long before the end. If the Hurricanes can do better in this area they have a good chance but one suspects the Crusaders will have too much power up front and the home side should win by 10 points or so.

TEAMS:

Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Ben Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Richie McCaw (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Tom Taylor, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Adam Whitelock, 15. Sean Maitland.

Replacements: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Owen Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly or Ross Kennedy, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tyler Bleyendaal, 22. Patrick Osborne.

Hurricanes: 1. Reg Goodes, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Ben May, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. Jason Eaton, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Jack Lam or Karl Lowe, 8. Brad Shields, 9. Chris Eaton, 10. Beauden Barrett, 11. Julian Savea, 12. Tim Bateman, 13. Conrad Smith (capt), 14. Alipate Leiua, 15. Andre Taylor.

Replacements: 16. Motu Matu'u, 17. Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 18. James Broadhurst, 19. Lowe or Mark Reddish, 20. Frae Wilson, 21. Tusi Pisi, 22. Jayden Hayward.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence (NZ)