Preview: Blues v Crusaders
Wednesday, February 26, 2014 Sportal.co.nz Getty Images
HEAD TO HEAD: Played: 23, Blues 10, Crusaders 13
LAST TIME: Blues 3, Crusaders 23, May 18, 2013, AMI Stadium
WALKING WOUNDED: Francis Saili was the main injury concern with a foot injury last weekend and is out of action. Jackson Willison has been named to replace him with George Moala being tried at centre Ma'a Nonu is still not ready to be considered by the Blues while there was also an injury cloud hanging over captain Luke Braid's ankle. However, he trained with the side on Wednesday and was expected to be able to take his place in the side.
For the Crusaders, Colin Slade has recovered from a bruised calf and he has been preferred to start to fullback to All Blacks incumbent Israel Dagg.
FORM: Both teams suffered first round losses but both had plenty of positives to take out of their games. The Crusaders mounted some fine attacks but were unable to penetrate stout Chiefs defence while the Blues were forced to play catch up and showed their ability to hang onto the ball for long stages as they probed, unsuccessfully on the scoreboard at least, for openings to pressure the Highlanders in Dunedin.
WE THINK: Matches between the two have always had a special edge and this will be no different. The Crusaders will welcome back last year's IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read to No.8 and he can be expected to be a significant boost for his side. The Crusaders' goal-kicking cannot be so bad for a second week while they will be looking to first five-eighths Tom Taylor to navigate the side around the field. The Blues have taken a significant risk in promoting Simon Hickey to first five-eighths while the choice of Moala at centre will be one link the Crusaders will be looking to exploit. While the Blues enjoy home town advantage the Crusaders appeal more as the side likely to best lift for the occasion.
Blues: 1.Sam Prattley, 2.James Parsons, 3.Charlie Faumuina, 4.Patrick Tuipulotu, 5.Tom Donnelly, 6.Steven Luatua, 7.Luke Braid/Brendon O'Connor, 8.Peter Saili, 9.Piri Weepu, 10.Simon Hickey, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Jackson Willison, 13. George Moala, 14.Frank Halai, 15.Charles Piutau.
Reserves: 16.Keven Mealamu, 17.Tony Woodcock, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Liaki Moli, 20.Brendon O'Connor/Jordan Manihera, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Benji Marshall, 23.Pita Ahki.
Crusaders: 1.Tim Perry, 2.Corey Flynn, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Samuel Whitelock, 5.Dominic Bird, 6.George Whitelock, 7.Richie McCaw, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Andy Ellis, 10.Tom Taylor, 11.Nafi Tuitavake, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Reynold Lee-Lo, 14.Rob Thompson, 15.Colin Slade.
Reserves: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Nepo Laulala, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Matt Todd, 21.Willi Heinz, 22.Adam Whitelock, 23.Israel Dagg.
REFEREE: Mike Fraser