Preview: Chiefs v Crusaders

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Saturday, February 28, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday, February 28, 19:35pm (NZDT)

H2H: Played 25, Chiefs 9, Crusaders 16

Last match: Crusaders 18 Chiefs 17, 19.04.14 in Hamilton

Squad update: Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has changed up his forward pack, bringing Pauliasi Manu, Ben Tameifuna, Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane into the starting line-up.

There are also positional moves, with Mike Fitzgerald moving to flanker with captain Liam Messam continuing at No 8, replacing the injured Maama Vaipulu.

All Blacks halfback Augustine Pulu gets the nod while Sonny Bill Williams reclaims the second five-eighth jersey after being declared fit to play with Charlie Ngatai moving out to centre.

James Lowe moves back to left wing due to the return from injury of Tom Marshall at fullback.

There are three changes to the Crusaders starting line-up that beat the Highlanders last week, with Daniel Carter ruled out of action.

In the front row, Nepo Laulala comes into the starting fifteen with Owen Franks suspended for two weeks.

Alex Hodgman will join Joe Moody as prop cover in the reserves. Loose forwards Jordan Taufua and Luke Whitelock have switched positions, so that Taufua takes the starting spot against the Chiefs and Whitelock takes a seat on the bench.

The final change is at fullback, which sees Tom Taylor pulling on the 15 jersey to give Israel Dagg more time to recover from a quad strain.

Form: The hosts are off to a solid start, unbeaten so far in 2015 after recording two typical Chiefs wins, victories with a heap of guts and grit.

The Blues were accounted for with a 23-18 win in Albany, before a Wallaby-laden Brumbies side was narrowly overcome in New Plymouth, with the 2012 and 2013 winners taking the 19-17 triumph.

The Crusaders were ambushed by the Rebels in round one, with the Melbourne based franchise recording their first ever win in Christchurch, beating the red and blacks 20-10.

However Todd Blackadder’s troops got on the board with a valuable 26-20 away victory in Dunedin over the Highlanders.

Key players: The Chief pack has been getting down with the best of them so far and expect what looks to be close to full strength forward unit to be ready for the Crusaders challenge.

Long gone are the days when the red and blacks knew their men up front would dominate this contest, with Brodie Retallick taking his place in the starting line up with another jumping option alongside the World Player of the Year and Matt Symons in the form of blindside Michael Fitzgerald.

Sonny Bill’s combination with Charlie Ngatai is becoming one of the midfields of the competition, while James Lowe, recently re-signed with the Chiefs, is managing to outshine his former All Blacks Sevens counterpart on the right wing Bryce Heem.

For the tourists Wyatt Crockett will be charged with trying to gain some set piece rule, while captain Matt Todd, already one of the leading tacklers in Super Rugby, will want to make his presence felt.

Jordan Taufua earlier in the week said he would be ready if future opposition tried to niggle Test captain Richie McCaw, but expect the most capped All Blacks forward to continue to work his way into the 2015 season.

Carter’s absence is a blow for all parties, but Colin Slade’s pedigree ensures that the Crusaders rear division will be well led, while Ryan Crotty will be tasked with leading defensive duties against the effervescent Chiefs backline.