PREVIEW: Blues v Crusaders

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Thursday, May 17, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Blues v Crusaders, Eden Park, Saturday, May 19, 7.35pm

Played: 30
Won: Blues 11, Crusaders 19
Last time: Crusaders 33-24 Blues, AMI Stadium, March 17 2017

With only three wins in the season the Blues face a tough battle with the Crusaders. The wins column includes victories over the Lions (38-35), the Sunwolves (24-10) and the Waratahs (24-21) while defeats have been suffered to the Highlanders (34-41, 16-34), the Chiefs (21-27, 19-21), the Stormers (20-37), the Sharks (40-63), the Jaguares (13-20) and the Hurricanes (15-36).
Sitting on top of the Super Rugby points table the Crusaders have suffered only two losses to the Hurricanes (19-29) and the Highlanders (17-25). They started with a win over the Chiefs (45-23) and then after their losses have strung together wins over the Bulls (33-14), the Lions (14-8), the Jaguares (40-14), the Sunwolves (33-11), the Brumbies (21-6), the Rebels (55-10) and the Waratahs (31-29).


Counties Manukau replacement lock Matiaha Martin is the latest beneficiary of the Blues' locking crisis, coming into the side to debut in place of the injured Patrick Tuipulotu. Prop Pauliasi Manu has returned to the front row. There is a bracket in the openside flanker position with Dalton Papalii needing to pass a fitness test and if not able to play his place will be taken by Murphy Taramai. In the backline Melani Nanai returns from injury after five games out. In the substitutes Michael Collins returns after missing four games due to injury.
Six changes have been made to the Crusaders starting XV while there is also one positional switch from the side that started against the Waratahs. Prop Tim Perry has returned from a hamstring injury while tighthead prop Owen Franks is back after a week's break. Mike Alaalatoa has been included in the reserves. Lock Quinten Strange gets a start in place of Sam Whitelock with his captaincy role taken over by Matt Todd. Heiden Bedwell-Curtis will start on the blindside flank. Second five-eighths Ryan Crotty is also back. George Bridge has moved from fullback to wing with David Havili back in the No.15 jersey.


With the game providing a last chance for players to push for inclusion in the All Blacks' squad to be named on Sunday, there will be interest in the contest between the No.8s, Akira Ioane for the Blues and Jordan Taufua for the Crusaders. Robertson felt Taufua was sure to be in the picture but it was going to be a hard call for the selectors as they considered their mix of loose forwards. It was all part of the overall contest and Robertson said the Blues could be exciting and score tries from anywhere. "We know their strengths and if you feed them you can get in danger pretty quickly," he said. While it had been so long since the intensity of clashes of the past had occurred, Robertson said, the history of the rivalry was important and reminding younger players, especially, of that was part of his preparation even down to video representations of past games.


Getting points against the Crusaders is easier said than done. They have missed fewer tackles per game this year than any other side with an average of 19 while they have the highest tackle success rate of 86 percent.


The Crusaders have achieved a marked dominance over the Blues in recent years and their six consecutive wins is the longest winning streak in games between the two old rivals.


Blues: 1.Pauliasi Manu, 2.James Parsons, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Matiaha Martin, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Dalton Papalii/Murphy Taramai, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Augustine Pulu (captain), 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Rieko Ioane, 12.Sonny Bill Williams, 13.Orbyn Leger, 14.Melani Nanai, 15.Matt Duffie.

Substitutes: 16.Matt Moulds, 17.Ross Wright, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Ben Nee-Nee, 20.Murphy Taramai/Antonio Kiri Kiri, 21.Jonathan Ruru, 22.Dan Kirkpatrick, 23.Michael Collins.

Crusaders: 1.Tim Perry, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Quinten Strange, 6.Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7.Matt Todd (captain), 8.Jordan Taufua, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Andrew Makalia, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Mitchell Dunshea, 20.Pete Samu, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Manasa Mataele.