Preview: Crusaders v Chiefs



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VENUE & TIME: Jade Stadium, Christchurch, Friday May 4, 19:35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 11 � Crusaders 9, Chiefs 2.

LAST TIME: March 10, 2006 (Hamilton) � Chiefs 19-25 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: Chris Jack's return from his hamstring problems was good news from Crusaders camp this week, although whether that compensates for the loss of Dan Carter (shoulder) and Kevin Senio (thigh) is debatable. Stephen Brett moves back into first five-eighths for his pivotal match and Andrew Ellis starts at halfback. The Chiefs lost Tasesa Lavea to Achilles problems and heavy chest bruising after last week but have wins with the return of Tom Willis to the starting lineup and Byron Kelleher to the bench. Kelleher may have been pressed into starting service had Brendon Leonard not been playing so well but he can now be introduced at Ian Foster's discretion.

FORM: The Chiefs may just be the hottest team in the competition at present but the Crusaders probably wish to dispute that; prior to last week the defending champs had taken 29 of a possible 30 competition points. Then they turned in a collective shocker at Canberra, squandering possession freely and finding those all-important last 5m to be a bridge too far. Creating a stack of scoring chances was nothing new for the Crusaders; finishing none was not part of the plan. The Chiefs also looked nervous at Sydney but got away with four points, although the last pass in Tane Tu�ipulotu's match-winning try was clearly forward when that sort of carelessness could have cost the match and the season. The Chiefs were fortunate to get away with that but there could have been no complaints if they had gone down after their worst effort in some time.

WHO'S HOT: No doubt the blowtorch will have been turned directly onto the senior Crusaders after a few less than inspiring recent efforts; perhaps the hottest thing in the squad will be players' ears, which are likely to be ringing after last week. Aaron Mauger looked good at times and made a few breaks, but really there was no standout player in red and black at Canberra. Stephen Donald has been running a good operation for the Chiefs and is the competition's leading scorer with 144 points, but it will be interesting to see how the Chiefs midfield works without the slick Donald-Lavea combination. The loose forward trio of Liam Messam, Marty Holah and Sione Lauaki have been prominent in the recent good run and the front row will put plenty of pressure on a sometimes faltering Crusaders front three.

WE THINK: Try as we might, we just cannot see the Chiefs breaking their Jade Stadium hoodoo. The game will be physical, close and tense but the Crusaders simply have too much to play for and we think they'll get up by 5-10 points.

TEAMS:

Crusaders:1 � Ben Franks, 2 � Corey Flynn, 3 � Campbell Johnstone, 4 � Ross Filipo, 5 � Chris Jack, 6 � Reuben Thorne, 7 � Richie McCaw (captain), 8 � Mose Tuiali�i, 9 � Andy Ellis, 10 � Stephen Brett, 11 � Caleb Ralph, 12 � Aaron Mauger, 13 � Casey Laulala, 14 � Rico Gear, 15 � Leon MacDonald.

Reserves: 16 � Ti�i Paulo, 17 � Ben May, 18 � Michael Paterson, 19 � Kieran Read, 20 � Kahn Fotuali�i, 21 � Rua Tipoki, 22 � Rico Gear.

Chiefs:1 � Simms Davison, 2 � Tom Willis, 3 � Nathan White, 4 � Jono Gibbes (captain), 5 � Keith Robinson, 6 � Liam Messam, 7 � Marty Holah, 8 � Sione Lauaki, 9 � Brendon Leonard, 10 � Stephen Donald, 11 � Sitiveni Sivivatu, 12 � Tane Tu�ipulotu, 13 � Dwayne Sweeney, 14 � Roy Kinikinilau, 15 � Mils Muliaina.

Reserves: 16 � Aled de Malmanche, 17 � Ben Castle, 18 � Kristian Ormsby, 19 � Steven Bates, 20 � Byron Kelleher, 21 � Murray Williams, 22 � Lelia Masaga.

REFEREE: Bryce Lawrence