PREVIEW: Crusaders v Sunwolves

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Thursday, April 19, 2018    Getty Images

Match details:
Crusaders v Sunwolves, 7.35pm Saturday 21 April, AMI Stadium, Christchurch. TICKETS.

Last time:
Crusaders 50, Sunwolves 3 (2017)

Since sustaining back-to-back losses to the Hurricanes and Highlanders early in the competition, the Crusaders have roared back with victories against the Bulls, Lions and Jaguares to sit at second on the NZ Conference. The Sunwolves are firmly rooted to the bottom of the overall Super Rugby ladder with just two bonus points to show from their seven fixtures this year. Their most impressive outing came in round five where they almost upset the Lions in a 38-40 thriller in Johannesburg. 


The Crusaders have rolled out the welcome mat for All Blacks stars Israel Dagg and Owen Franks who will make their first appearance of the year against the Sunwolves. Dagg has recovered from a knee injury and will slot onto the right wing with George Bridge moving to fullback. Franks has overcome an Achilles injury and will pack down in the number three jersey. Along with the experience of Dagg and Franks, a couple of new faces will appear for the Crusaders in loose forward Ethan Blackadder and reserve halfback Jack Stratton.


35-year-old Mike Delany will make his first Super Rugby start since 2012 when he lines up at first five-eighth for the Crusaders. Delany joked during the week that some of the younger players in the side have been calling him Dad given his veteran status. His clash with former Highlanders pivot Hayden Parker will be an interesting one with both equally matched and eager to secure more game time for their respective side.


Despite their position at the bottom of the Australian conference, the Sunwolves have shown their danger with ball in hand throughout the season. The Jamie Joseph-coached side averages three tries a game and have tested all opposition defensive lines with their Highlanders-inspired set-piece play and counter-attack.
The Crusaders have won 18 of their last 19 home games. (Opta)

Even the most ardent of Sunwolves fan will know victory in Christchurch is a very distant possibility. It’s the bottom of the table against the reigning champions on their home track – maybe the hardest assignment in Super Rugby. But it’s not all bleak for the Sunwolves. They have nothing to lose and will throw everything at the Crusaders. Expect plenty of set-piece imagination and counter-attack from the Sunwolves as they look to break the Crusaders line. Last year the Sunwolves come up short 50-3 in Christchurch. They may not come away with a win this time either, but that scoreline could well be a lot closer.

George Bridge, Israel Dagg, Tim Bateman, Ryan Crotty, Manasa Matele, Mike Delany, Mitchell Drummond, Tom Sanders, Matt Todd, Ethan Blackadder, Quin Strange, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell Tim Perry
Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Wyatt Crockett, Chris King, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Jack Stratton, Mitchell Hunt, Seta Tamanivalu

Sunwolves: Will Tupou, Hosea Saumaki, Timothy Lafaele, Michael Little, Kenki Fukuoka, Hayden Parker, Fuimiaki Tanaka, Kazuki Himeno, Pieter Labuschagne, Yoshitaka Tokunaga, Grant Hatting, James Moore, Jiwon Koo, Jaba Bregvadze, Craig Millar
Reserves: Yusuke Niwai, Shintaro Ishihara, Takuma Asahara, Sam Wykes, Ed Quirk, Yutaka Nagere, Ryoto Nakamura, Semisi Masirewa