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Preview: Crusaders v Sharks

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Thursday, July 24, 2014    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Records: Played 20, Crusaders 14, Sharks 5, Drawn 1 (This season, Sharks beat the Crusaders 30-25 at Christchurch)

Injuries: Having recovered from the broken rib suffered during the Test series against England, Richie McCaw has been named for the Crusaders, although on the blindside of the scrum.

The Sharks are expected to start Pat Lambie at first five-eighths after his return from injury made a difference as a replacement against the Highlanders. Missing from the side however is Beast Mtawarira and lock Anton Bresler who has been replaced by Stephan Lewies who pulled out of the Highlanders game just before it was due to start.

Key Men: Fullback Israel Dagg and his fellow wings Nemani Nadolo and Keiron Fonotia can expect to face plenty of exposure to the high balls sent their way from Patrick Lambie and Francois Steyn. But every-present No.8 and captain Keiran Read can be expected to have that well in his processes for the game. The front five will also expect to cope with the Sharks' rolling maul. Look for second five-eighths Dan Carter to be a key influence for the home team.

Hooker Bismarck du Plessis can be expected to be keen to have his side give the Crusaders a reminder of why they lost earlier in the year. The visiting pack will be keen to assert itself while in the loose Jean Deysel and Ryan Kankowski should ensure a fascinating scrap.

Facts to note: The game is hooker Corey Flynn's 150th Super Rugby appearance. Only two teams, the Bulls (three times) and the Chiefs (twice) have beaten the Crusaders in semi-finals, and they achieved the feat on their home grounds. It is the Crusaders' 16th semi-final and the Sharks' eighth. Apart from their loss earlier this year to the Sharks, the Crusaders have only lost once before to a South African side in Christchurch – in 1996. No New Zealand side has lost a home semi-final in 16 matches. The Sharks achieved a Super Rugby record by landing their 74th penalty goal this season last weekend.

Prospects: In spite of all the talk otherwise, it is a fact that travelling from South Africa to New Zealand is the most difficult route in the competition and that could see the Sharks struggle in the last quarter. That puts the pressure on them to try and build a sustainable lead during the first three-quarters. At the same time the Crusaders will be looking to deny the Sharks a fast start and to hit them with their own reminder that they are a different unit to that earlier in the season. The Sharks have a determined defence but the home team has impressed in recent outings and have done enough to suggest they should play in the final. Crusaders by five.

Teams

Crusaders: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Corey Flynn, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Dominic Bird, 5.Sam Whitelock, 6.Richie McCaw, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Kieran Read (captain), 9.Andy Ellis, 10.Colin Slade, 11.Nemani Nadolo, 12.Dan Carter, 13.Ryan Crotty, 14.Kieron Fonotia, 15.Israel Dagg.

Reserves: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Joe Moody, 18.Nepo Laulala, 19.Jimmy Taufua, 20.Willi Heinz, 21.Tom Taylor, 22.Johnny McNicholl.

Sharks: 1.Thomas du Toit, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 3.Jannie du Plessis, 4.Willem Alberts, 5.Stephen Lewies, 6.Marcell Coetzee, 7.Jean Deysel, 8.Ryan Kankowski, 9.Cobus Reinach, 10.Pat Lambie, 11.Lwazi Mvovo, 12.Frans Steyn, 13.Paul Jordaan, 14.JP Pietersen, 15.SP Marais.

Reserves: 16.Kyle Cooper, 17.Dale Chadwick, 18.Lourens Adriaanse, 19.Etienne Oosthuizen, 20.Tera Mtembu, 21.Charl McLeod, 22.S'bura Sithole 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.

Referee: Glen Jackson