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Preview: Hurricanes v Crusaders

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Thursday, March 7, 2013     Getty Images

LAST TIME: Hurricanes 23 def Crusaders 22, Round 18, 2012 at AMI Stadium

WALKING WOUNDED: Jack Lam is still struggling with a knee injury for the Hurricanes while Eric Sione has a shoulder injury and Blade Thomson an ankle injury. Motu Matu'u and Ash Dixon are bracketed on the bench as hookers. Luke Romano wasn't able to be considered due to the rib injury he suffered against the Blues. Johnny McNicholl has recovered from injury and will play on the wing.

FORM: The Crusaders surprised, not so much from the fact they lost, but the way they lost when unable to score a try against the Blues in their opening game. Clearly, the disadvantage of starting a week later than the other New Zealand sides was not a help but their rustiness was still a surprise given the Crusaders reputation for effective preparation. Coach Todd Blackadder said the side will have a different mindset for this game with a reduction of mistakes and an improvement in tackling.

Two games down in two attempts was not what was expected of the Hurricanes and it won't be any easier this weekend against the old rival from the other side of Cook Strait. Coach Mark Hammett wants better decision-making at the base of the scrum so has moved Victor Vito from the blindside to the changed role which also beefs up the loose forwards with Brad Shields at blindside flanker. The Hurricanes were not that far off the pace against the Reds and could feel some disappointment that things didn't go their way in the officiating of the game.

WE THINK: Crusaders stunned are a dangerous entity and it will be a different side which runs onto Westpac Stadium on Friday night. However, cohesion will need to come quickly to allow them to establish their game. The Hurricanes will be looking to upset that continuity play and to inflict their own methods on the game. It is an intriguing contest among two sides who still have the ability to be at the top of the conference by season's end. Crusaders by five.