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Preview: Blues v Crusaders

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Friday, June 5, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 6 June at 7.35pm
Eden Park, Auckland

Played: 26, 1996-2015
Blues wins: 11

Crusaders wins: 15
Blues points: 573
Crusaders points: 651

Last played: Crusaders 29 Blues 15, 25.04.15 in Christchurch

Round 17 teams: http://bit.ly/1Joo5Jx

Form: The best way to sum up the Blues tough season is to summarise their casualty ward, with nearly a full starting XV not available for selection.

When players like Jerome Kaino, Steven Luatua and Pat Tuipulotu aren’t able to suit up for action, it is hard to mount a constant challenge.

But they have been competitive, their attack stats compare well with some of the best teams in the competition, while their average scoreline? 19-25, not the measure of a side that has been embarrassed week after week.

Two more wins would give the Blues five victories overall, not something many supporters would have entertained after seven straight losses to open their campaign.

Some might argue the Crusaders season has been even more frustrating, as they have put together some very impressive displays and have more All Blacks on their roster than their Auckland based rivals.

Anything less than a bonus point victory will ensure that the seven-time champions will miss out on the finals for the first time since 2001.

Consistency probably sums up their campaign, they have scored more points and tries than any other (heading into the round), but have only won back-to-back matches once.

Key players: Expect the old campaigner Tony Woodcock to be in the thick of things, while James Parsons will lead the side with another veteran in Keven Mealamu coming off the bench.

While this promises a fierce battle when the packs meet for the first scrum, the Blues will need their backs to be on high alert.

This Crusaders team made the Hurricanes glamour division out wide look human, so Ihaia West, George Moala and Ben Lam will need to stamp their authority on this one.

The Crusaders will be looking to deliver the same sort of intensity that saw them conquer the champions just a few days ago.

The signs were solid across the park, not only did Nemani Nadolo continue to wreck devastation, the return of another big man in Robbie Fruean also made a difference.

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw are back in their familiar jerseys, while the tourists boast a very ominous looking bench with Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty lurking.

Squad update: The Blues have 12 players unavailable for selection with injury, so three squad members - Will Lloyd and Joe Edwards and Matt Vaega - get their first starts while replacement Airi Hunt gains his first Super Rugby cap in Saturday’s game at Eden Park.

Replacement players, brought in to cover the large number of injured player - Nic Mayhew, Sione Mafileo, Chris Vui and Matt McGahan - are listed in the reserves.

Crusaders Head Coach Todd Blackadder has named an unchanged backline to face the Blues this weekend.

There will be three changes to the forwards and five changes in the reserves from the team that beat the Hurricanes last weekend.

Wyatt Crockett returns to the number 1 jersey this week, while Alex Hodgman moves to the bench. Hookers Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor have rotated again so that Taylor takes the starting spot on Saturday night.

The final change to the starting fifteen is at lock, with Dominic Bird coming into the team alongside Luke Romano. Sam Whitelock returns from a head knock to take a spot on the bench, as does Ryan Crotty.