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Preview: Crusaders v Hurricanes

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Thursday, May 28, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Friday 29 May at 7.35pm (NZST)
Trafalgar Park, Nelson

Played: 27, 1996-2015
Crusaders wins: 16
Hurricanes wins: 9

Draws: 2
Crusaders points: 724
Hurricanes points: 549

Last match: Hurricanes 29 Crusaders 23, 02.05.15 in Wellington

Round 16 teams: http://bit.ly/1cknolG

Form: No more whispers and no avoiding the simple truth, the Hurricanes on form are a major chance to win the 2015 Super Rugby Championship, and just three competition points are needed from their final three matches to secure the number one position and potential home rights all the way to the decider.

Two-thirds of all the team’s that have won the title finished the regular season in top position.

The Hurricanes statistics across the board are mindboggling, the best attacking team, one of the finest defensive outfits, the leading scrum in 2015, an average 11 point winning margin and now on the precipice of taking the minor premiership with two and a half rounds to spare.

In their way stand a Crusaders team that has no fancy equations left – lose this one and they cannot make the top six.

The Hurricanes roll into Nelson as a team that the red and blacks now seem to fear, only three times in their last eleven head-to-heads have the men from Wellington been defeated by the 'Saders, another little fact that seems to support what could be an epic changing of the guard.

This will not be for the faint hearted as the Hurricanes convincingly dominate all statistical measures except for the wee fact that these two teams combined have scored a staggering 89 tries and 738 points - the best two attacks in the field.

With nothing to lose, expect all of the Crusaders kitchen sinks to be thrown at the Canes.

Key players: The home team has been struck by injuries but by quirk of fate this could allow the seven-time champions to find the missing balance to give themselves some hope.

With Kieran Read and Colin Slade headlining the casualty ward, coach Todd Blackadder has shifted one of the best performers for 2015, Jordan Taufua, to the back of the scrum.

This allows the Crusaders to field double open sides, and the combination of Matt Todd and Richie McCaw could allow the hosts to disrupt the usually smooth rhythm of the Hurricanes attack around the loose.

Dan Carter takes up position at first five-eighth, while one of the other potential ‘weaknesses’ of the Crusaders (size in the backline) is remedied with the return from injury of Robbie Fruean.

Visiting coach Chris Boyd has done his rivals no favours by introducing some heavy artillery back to the fold, with Conrad Smith, James Broadhurst and Reg Goodes back in the starting team while Ben Franks will lurk off the bench.

Otere Black, who signalled to the world the coming of yet another New Zealand first five, has another chance to impress after a fine display against the Blues.

Attention though must go to the record men.

Ma’a Nonu moves past Tana Umaga, playing his 123rd match for his beloved Hurricanes, while Jeremy Thrush equals the grizzled Andrew Hore as the most capped forward ever to don the famous yellow, playing his 106th.

Squad update: Blackadder has made seven changes to the starting line-up that faced the Waratahs last weekend and four further changes in the reserves.

Prop Alex Hodgman will make his first start of the season with Joe Moody out with a foot injury. Providing prop cover on the bench are Nepo Laulala and Tim Perry, who is set to play his first game since rupturing his achilles at the end of 2014.

Three players have been ruled out this week following head knocks in the game against the Waratahs, they are lock Sam Whitelock, number 8 Kieran Read and midfielder Ryan Crotty. That sees Jimmy Tupou start at lock alongside Luke Romano, while Dominic Bird takes a spot on the bench. Richie McCaw steps into captaincy duties and the number 7 jersey, with Matt Todd playing at 6, Jordan Taufua at 8 and Luke Whitelock on the bench.

Robbie Fruean is making his return from injury at centre and David Havili will start at 2nd five. Colin Slade and Israel Dagg are also both out with injuries this week, so Dan Carter starts at 1st five on Friday night, Tom Taylor at fullback and Kieron Fonotia joins the reserves.

The Hurricanes welcome back Goodes, Broadhurst, Ben Franks, Smith and Matt Proctor for the Crusaders match.

Aside from Smith’s inclusion, coach Chris Boyd has kept his backline the same as last week, giving 20-year-old Otere Black his second start at first five-eighth.