Preview: Crusaders v Sharks

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Friday, May 16, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday, May 17, 2014, 19:35pm (NZT)

Head to head: Played 17, Crusaders 13, Sharks 4

Last time: Crusaders 17-21 Sharks (April 5, 2013)

Squad update: The continued absence of Kieran Read due to concussion would usually be a talking point but the form of the team overall ensures this isn’t a factor – Luke Whitelock is playing brilliantly at number eight and it helps having a revitalised Richie McCaw alongside him. Once again the steady hands of the axis of Andy Ellis, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor will be key.

The Sharks are a mixed outfit, top of the table but not in the sort of touch one usually associates with such a position. Frans Steyn continues to be among the most dangerous kickers in Investec Super Rugby but the absence of Pat Lambie is clearly detracting from their offence.

Form: It isn’t a stretch to suggest that the Crusaders are in the best form of any team currently, they haven’t lost since the end of March, and their five straight victories have all been impressive in their own way – only three times has a team breached a half century of points and the seven-time champions have done it twice in their last four games.

The Sharks have now lost two of their last three and while their power game and pressure tactics still produce some results, just three tries in their last five outings is proving to be an Achilles Heel. Without a win in Christchurch ever, history will not be a friend for the men from Durban.

Key players: The return of All Blacks captain Richie McCaw has galvanised the team, fellow forwards like Sam Whitelock and Jordan Taufua are in fine touch while the backline is hitting a purple patch, aided by the mammoth presence of Nemani Nadolo.

The Sharks play a forward orientated game so their men up front will be the vital components of what would be an upset victory at AMI Stadium. Jannie du Plessis and the “Beast” bring up 100 Super Rugby games for the black and whites so their mates will want to bring up such an achievement in style.

Cruasaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Rey Lee-Lo, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willie Heinz, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 George Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Sharks:15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Paul Jordaan, 11 Lwazi Mvovo ,10 Francois Steyn, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Willem Alberts, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Tera Mtembu, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, (c) 1 Tendai Mtawarira

Replacements:16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Ryan Kankowski, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Tim Swiel, 23 Heimar Williams

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