Preview: Hurricanes v Crusaders

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Friday, May 1, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 2 May at 19:.35pm (NZST)
Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Played: 26 (1996-2014)
Hurricanes wins: 8
Crusaders wins: 16
Draws: 2

Hurricanes points: 520
Crusaders points: 701

Last match: Hurricanes 16 Crusaders 9, 28.06.14 in Wellington

Round 12 teams:

Form: The Hurricanes have suffered just the solitary defeat this year, losing to a Waratahs side that probably played their best game of the season against Chris Boyd’s troops.

More telling was the fact that the Hurricanes defensive focus played second fiddle to their attack that game, the first time this season the 'Canes had decided to match fire-with-fire against a ball in hand style team.

While it almost paid dividends, it shows the 2015 evolution of the Hurricanes continues, as they registered close to 700 running metres in their last outing, a 35-19 victory in Brisbane.

Their strong defence is now being embellished with some typical yellow and black attack – they are ninth overall in terms of carries but fifth with metres ran (4,517), third with clean breaks (96), second with tries scored (30) while boasting more offensive bonus points (5) than any other.

The Crusaders are 5-5 after ten matches and need to start stringing together results if they are to threaten the top NZ three of the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders.

Some suggest it is due to senior All Blacks easing into their season, but statistics back up a side that still isn’t running constantly hard and straight, they are convincingly the biggest metre eaters (running 5,036) of any side in Super Rugby.

Sometimes, as it did in Durban, this preference for wide looping attack is stunning to watch, but the Highlanders and Chiefs in recent weeks have countered this by pouring huge amounts of resources into the tight exchanges.

If the Hurricanes are to go on and win their maiden title, their recent record against the Crusaders could suggest higher things are to come – what had been a one-sided head to head has the men from Wellington recording four wins in their last five meetings with the red and blacks.

Key Players: The Hurricanes, with the exception of the missing Victor Vito, will welcome the Crusaders to town at full strength.

Dane Coles will come off the bench while Nehe Milner-Skudder returns to bolster a backline where the fullback is the only player not to have worn the black jersey.

The talent of the Hurricanes backs isn’t under question, but the pedigree of the pack will get a torrid examination from a Crusaders forward unit that must be beginning to get a little angry.

The tourist’s rear division look hungry last week with giant wing Nemani Nadolo putting in his best performance of 2015, while Dan Carter was a defensive rock, continuing his status as the best tackling back in the tournament.

However the match could be decided by Colin Slade, whose form has been strong but he is still unable to boss a contest around, unlike Beauden Barrett who has that rare quality of being able to gain a few extra milliseconds every time he plays the ball.

Squad update: Hooker Dane Coles will make an earlier than expected return to the Hurricanes as they get ready to host the Crusaders at Westpac Stadium on Saturday night.

Coles was pencilled in to return against the Sharks next week, but the positive progress of his elbow injury will see him come off the pine this weekend. He will be joined by Blade Thomson, who has also been side-lined for the past five weeks with concussion.

Nehe Milner-Skudder returns to the starting line-up, as does Cory Jane on the right wing, with Matt Proctor sliding onto the bench.

Head Coach Todd Blackadder has made just two changes to the starting line-up that beat the Blues last weekend.

Matt Todd will start at 7 this week, after Richie McCaw was ruled out following a head knock in the game against the Blues. That sees Luke Whitelock come onto the bench as loose forward cover.

Halfback Andy Ellis steps back into the starting line-up with Mitchell Drummond moving to the reserves.