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Super Rugby Preview: Highlanders v Crusaders

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Thursday, March 14, 2019    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

But there are few as intense as that between southern rivals the Highlanders and Crusaders who do battle in Dunedin in Investec Super Rugby on Saturday.

Match Details: Highlanders v Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 7.35pm, March 16, 2019

Played: 34
Won: Highlanders 11, Crusaders 23
Last time: Highlanders 22-45 Crusaders, Christchurch Stadium, July 6, 2018
Referee: Brendon Pickerill

FORM

The Highlanders won their first two games, against the Chiefs (30-27 away) and the Reds (36-31 home) but lost to the Rebels 19-24 in Melbourne and the Hurricanes 22-25 in Wellington. The Crusaders after being pushed hard by the Blues in their opening game before winning 24-22, have also beaten the Hurricanes 38-22 (home), the Reds 22-12 (away) and the Chiefs 57-28 (home).

STATISTICAL ADVANTAGE

Not surprisingly, given their winning run, the Crusaders take a healthy statistical advantage into the game. They are averaging 34.3 points compared to 26.8 for the Highlanders and they have scored 5.8 tries to 3.5 per game for the home team. If there is one significant difference it is in goal-kicking where the Crusaders are lowest in the competition with a 50 percent success rate compared to 80 percent for the Highlanders. But in clean breaks, (14.8/9.5), defenders beaten (24/18.5), offloads (11.3/8.3), tackles (135.8/116.5), missed tackles (23/24.5) the Crusaders lead in each category. They are level pegging in turnovers won and conceded while the Crusaders edge it in the lineouts (90/88 percent), the rucks (97/96) while the Highlanders have the scrums (97/93).

GOING WITH YOUTH

High-pressure games are not the usual place to put young players to the test but both sides have opted to push their limits in Dunedin. The home side have opted to introduce teenage halfback Folau Fokatava from the bench. He's only had six minutes Super Rugby but coach Aaron Mauger is excited about his young charge. What makes his choice all the more intriguing is that they have only two backs available from the bench with old hand Marty Banks the other cover. The Crusaders have been even bolder. They have prop George Bower making his starting debut on the loosehead after some impressive minutes off the bench last week. And halfback Ereatara Enari, a former NZ Under-20 representative, has been given the bench role behind Bryn Hall at the expense of Mitch Drummond. Again, that is a big call by coach Scott Robertson but one he was comfortable with after Enari's display last week.

THE SCOOP

The Crusaders have won their last eight games away from home, their last defeat being against the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Round Five last year.

FAST FACT

The Highlanders have won 14 of their last 15 Super Rugby games at home, including wins over Australian sides in their last two outings, in spite of conceding more than 30 points each time.

TEAMS:

Highlanders: 1.Ayden Johnstone, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Tyrel Lomax, 4.Josh Dickson, 5.Jack Whetton, 6.Shannon Frizell, 7.James Lentjes, 8.Luke Whitelock (captain), 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Josh Ioane, 11.Richard Buckman, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Patelesio Tomkinson, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith (captain).

Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon, 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Siate Tokolahi, 19.Tom Franklin, 20.Elliot Dixon, 21.Dillon Hunt, 22.Folau Fakatava, 23.Marty Banks.

Crusaders: 1.George Bower, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Whetukamokamo Douglas, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Braydon Ennor, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Andrew Makalio, 17.Harry Allan, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Quinten Strange, 20.Tom Sanders, 21.Ereatara Enari, 22. Brett Cameron, 23.Will Jordan.