Preview: Hurricanes v Crusaders

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Saturday, June 28, 2014    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday, June 28, 2014, 19:35pm (NZT)

H2H: Played 26, Hurricanes 7, Crusaders 16, Drawn 3

Last time: Hurricanes 29-26 Crusaders (March 28, 2014)

Squad update: The absence of Conrad Smith is a blow for the Hurricanes as his leadership and defensive organisation will be missed at this stage of the campaign. Jeremy Thrush steps up to the captaincy and has Brad Shields elevated to the pack, such big men will be vital if they are to hold off a more decorated Crusaders forward unit.

The form of Beauden Barrett will be critical here, largely unused during the June Internationals, while other Hurricanes backs, such as Julian Savea and Cory Jane, emerged from the All Blacks environment in fine touch.

The Crusaders have backed Colin Slade to do the job initially despite the return of the tournament’s most prolific point’s scorer in Dan Carter, named alongside IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read on the visitor’s pine. Matt Todd steps up to replace Richie McCaw in an experienced forward contingent – nine of the men up front in the squad have been within the All Blacks. However the absence of Fijian superstar Nemani Nadolo is a big absence for the tourist's attacking threat.

Form: The Hurricanes scintillating ability on attack, the best tries scored ledger, points, clean breaks, metres carried and beaten defenders, has their offensive class well known, but a 7-7 record so far has them in danger territory for qualification. Three losses in their last five need to be arrested as such form doesn’t equal genuine championship contender.

The Crusaders meanwhile are the form team of the competition, winning nine of their last 11 matches. That curious five-point loss to an undermanned Sharks has been consigned to memory, and a victory here will allow the seven-time champions to place one hand on the New Zealand Conference trophy.

Key players: The Hurricanes will rely heavily on the likes of Dane Coles, who emerged from June with his reputation enhanced and his entry to the big boy international hookers club signed sealed and delivered. Along with Ben Franks up front, and Victor Vito and Ardie Savea in the loose forwards, man for man the hosts have the ability to equal the efforts of their touring big men.

The Crusaders, while obviously talented up front, need to bring their best offence to the party here as out wide the Hurricanes probably possess an edge. The likes of Andy Ellis and Ryan Crotty are not the flashiest players but will need to bring all of their experience to bear against the devastating ball carriers of the home team.

Key matchup: Matt Todd will look for a big performance with another start, part of the All Blacks setup but not required for match time, and considering the Crusaders very early season jitters were eradicated with more intensity at the ruck, Todd’s tools will be needed as the red and blacks are at their best when they can create chaos from the turnover.

Ardie Savea gets a rare run on game, with Samoa’s Jack Lam on the bench after a busy June. Savea wasn’t called up to the All Blacks despite his ‘apprenticeship’ status last year, and the young openside knows a big game will flash his name to the Test selectors once more.

Hurricanes: 15 Matt Proctor, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Alapati Leiua, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Blade Thomson, 4 Jeremy Thursh (c), 3 Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles, 1 Ben Franks.

Replacements: 16 Motu Matu'u/Reggie Goodes, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Reggie Goodes/Brendon Edmonds, 19 James Broadhurst, 20 Jack Lam, 21 Chris Smylie, 22 Hadleigh Parkes, 23 James Marshall.

Crusaders: 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty (c), 11 Nafi Tuitavake, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Kieran Read, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Rob Thompson.