Preview: Crusaders v Lions

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Saturday, March 14, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 14 March at 4.30pm
AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch

Played: 6, 2007-14 (DNP 2011/13)
Crusaders wins: 5
Lions wins: 1

Crusaders points: 163
Lions points: 74

Last match: Crusaders 28 Lions 7, 05.04.14 in Johannesburg

Squad update: Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has changed two thirds of his team for this clash, and while such a fact would normally hint at disruption, the immense quality of the replacements will put the coaching group at ease.

Senior All Blacks Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock return to the starting XV, along with Fijian flyer Nemani Nadolo, who closed off the 2014 Investec Super Rugby season as one of the best offensive weapons in the competition.

In other changes Jordan Taufua moves to blindside flanker which will see All Blacks captain Richie McCaw regain his preferred number seven jersey.

Whitelock will be alongside Luke Romano in the second row, while Owen Franks returns to the side after serving out his suspension.

In the backline Andy Ellis and Dan Carter come into the team at halfback and first five-eighth respectively, while Nadolo will wear the number 11 jersey alongside Johnny McNicholl who will be on the right flank.

Meanwhile Lions coach Johan Ackermann has opted against any changes, rewarding the fifteen players who defeated the Blues 13-10 with a chance to conquer Christchurch.

Marnitz Boshoff and Andries Ferreira have been named on the bench in the only alterations to the match day squad.

Form: This match is under the column ‘must win’ for the Crusaders, who sit 14th overall with two losses and just the solitary victory.

The upset round one defeat against the Rebels has put the pressure on the seven-time champions, who managed to record a six point win in Dunedin before the Chiefs comprehensively defeated the red and blacks in Hamilton.

However Blackadder has named what is his most powerful starting team so far this season despite making more changes than any other New Zealand Conference coach (match-to-match) so far in 2015.

The Lions three point success at Albany was not given the plaudits deserved, with pundits preferring to focus on the Blues woes rather than the excellent defensive effort of the South Africans.

The traveller’s first victory in four matches came off the back of three straight losses, the last of which was a 19-22 loss against the Stormers in the third round.

The tourists from the Republic will be seeking just their fifth victory on New Zealand soil since 1998 and first over the Crusaders in Christchurch – in 2001 the side accounted for the seven-time champions in Nelson.

Key players: The return of Read, who also regains the captaincy, cannot be underestimated, for even if the number eight is a little rusty, he is a totem and will inspire those around him.

McCaw may talk about the interchangeable nature of the back row, but he is a number seven by nature so look for a good showing from the most capped All Black, while Franks and Whitelock ensure the tight five looks at full strength.

Carter may be out of position but Colin Slade’s form demands his retention in the team, and the 10, 12, 13 axis of Slade, Carter and Ryan Crotty ensures there is plenty of nous and tactical direction in the rear.

The Lions will look to their gold nugget back row, with Jaco Kriel, Warwick Tecklenburg and skipper Warren Whiteley immense against the Blues.

Elton Jantjies played with composure against Sir John Kirwan’s troops, while Lionel Mapoe and Andries Coetzee were very tidy out wide on defence and will look to repeat their efforts in the south.