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Preview: Crusaders v Blues

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Thursday, April 23, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 25 April at 7.35pm
AMI Stadium (Addington), Christchurch

Played: 25 (1996-2014)
Crusaders wins: 14
Blues wins: 11

Crusaders points: 622
Blues points: 558

Last match: Crusaders 21 Blues 13, 05.07.14 in Christchurch


Round 11 teams: http://bit.ly/1QmWaLs

Form: The hosting Crusaders sit tenth overall and now stand at a precipice, for a loss in this fixture would result in the top six moving at least ten competition points clear of the most successful team in Super Rugby.

The red and blacks have lost three of their last four matches, a run we don’t normally associate with the Christchurch based team in the middle of the season – this is usually the time when they prove all doubters wrong and begin their run towards the finals.

Remember the last time the Crusaders didn’t reach the knockout stages of Super Rugby was in 2001. 

They haven’t finished lower than fourth in the last 13 years.

The Blues might be in the midst of their own version of Annus horribilis in 2015, but they have more losing bonus points than any other team and will realise a victory in Christchurch will give their fans a little hope.

A fine attack is mounting some sound numbers but tries and offensive devastation has been beyond the three-time champions so far.

If the Blues can win in Canterbury for the first time since February 27, 2004, then they will be bullish with five home games in their last six matches – the best closing run of any team.

Key Players: Blackadder must be given kudos, as he has given most players, including All Blacks, a chance to atone for what was a heavy loss against the Chiefs despite the seven-time trophy holders dominating certain statistics.

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw have the chance to remind all and sundry of their class, while Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and one of the season's best, Jordan Taufua, will look to run riot to ensure their side doesn't drop away.

Colin Slade will want a big game considering recent news regarding NZ first five-eighths, while Nemani Nadolo will want to begin repeating his efforts seen throughout 2014.

The Blues All Black front row will be a potential menace, while Akira Ioane and Steven Luatua will back themselves to hold off the Crusaders blue chip loose forwards.

Dan Bowden has another challenge on his hands, but he has attacking class around him in the form of Melani Nanai Val and Lolagi Visinia.

Squad Update: Head Coach Todd Blackadder has made four changes to last week’s starting line-up. In the forward pack, Codie Taylor and Ben Funnell have rotated so that Taylor starts at hooker this week, as have Owen Franks and Nepo Laulala.

Mitchell Drummond will start at halfback with Andy Ellis moving to the bench. Ryan Crotty has recovered from a head knock and will start at centre, with Kieron Fonotia ready to provide some impact from the bench.

For the tourists, Tony Woodcock, Keven Mealamu and Charlie Faumuina will be the starting front row this week, boasting 260 Test caps and 383 Super Rugby games collectively under their belts.

Mealamu will also assume the captaincy with Jerome Kaino given time out in the All Blacks rotation – after playing in eight of the Blues’ nine games - along with James Parsons and Charles Piutau, who get their first break.

Steven Luatua returns to play at No 8 with teenager Akira Ioane given a second game after his impressive debut last week, while Jimmy Cowan returns to start at halfback and Lolagi Visinia at fullback.

Players not considered because of injury are Patrick Tuipulotu, out with a leg injury, and Pita Ahki with a hamstring injury, both likely to be out for two weeks. Northland hooker Matt Moulds comes on to the bench looking for his debut.