Preview: Crusaders v Force

Getty Images

Friday, May 30, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday, May 30, 2014, 19:35pm (NZT)

Head to head: Played 8, Crusaders 4, Force 2, Drawn 2

Last played: Crusaders 14-16 Force (April 13, 2013)

Squad update: Last season’s IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read makes his return after suffering from concussion and flu, and his return will be timely as the seven-time champion’s chase their second win in three matches, and ninth overall. Head coach Todd Blackadder has also retained the front row that impressed against the Highlanders, leaving three All Blacks on the bench.

The visitors have named four new faces in their match day squad, with number eight Brynard Stander and centre Patrick Dellit coming into the run on XV, while Chris Tuatara-Morrison moves in one position to second five eighth. Ryan Hodson and Dillyn Leyds have been named on the bench, with both players in line to make their Investec Super Rugby debuts.

Form: The Crusaders remain among the form teams of the competition despite their well heralded loss to the table topping Sharks a fortnight ago, but while sitting top of the New Zealand Conference cannot afford to suffer what would be their fourth home loss of their campaign. Victory here would set them up nicely before the June break, with a tough away match to the Hurricanes when they resume Super Rugby action on June 28.

The Force last week recorded a franchise record eighth victory, but with two defeats in their last five encounters must win to keep their dream of a historic maiden Investec Super Rugby Finals Series appearance alive. Sitting fourth overall, just one position behind their opponents, a triumph here will allow them to keep pressure on the Australian Conference leading Waratahs.

Key Players: While the return of Read will be a welcome sight for all of New Zealand, especially the All Blacks selectors, the form of the outside men will be critical against the tenacious Force. Colin Slade is in career best form, while the strike power of Nemani Nadolo and the improving Israel Dagg will be crucial when playing a Force outfit that has only let in 22 tries.

The Force have attacking scions of their own in the form of the ‘Honey Badger’ Nick Cummins and Jayden Hayward, but it will be their forwards who have the greatest say on this match. Pek Cowen has been among the better looseheads in the competition, while the most influential tackler in Super Rugby – in skipper Matt Hodgson – will be called upon again to lead the blue wall in defence.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Tom Taylor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (capt), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Tim Perry.

Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Adam Whitelock, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Patrick Dellit, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Angus Cottrell, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.

Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Ryan Hodson, 21 Justin Turner, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Dillyn Leyds.