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PREVIEW: Highlanders v Crusaders

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Wednesday, May 11, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

ROUND 12: Highlanders v Crusaders, Friday 13 May, 7.35pm, Forsyth Barr Stadium

TALE OF THE TAPE
Despite being reigning Investec Super Rugby champions, the Highlanders recent record against the Crusaders is poor with six losses from the last seven matches. Even the home ground advantage hasn’t helped the Highlanders with three straight home losses to their southern rivals. The Crusaders march to Dunedin on the back of an eight match winning streak – their longest winning run since 2008.

FLYING FIJIANS
Both teams boast Fijian flair out wide. In Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne, the Highlanders possess two lethal try-scoring weapons. Naholo showed his class on return from an eight-week injury lay-off last week to bag a superb double against the Chiefs. The pace of Naholo is complemented by the power running of Patrick Osborne to complete a dynamic combination. Although Nemani Nadolo is still missing through suspension, the Crusaders are covered in the flying Fijian stakes with Jone Macilai. The electric left wing crossed for a hat-trick last week to underscore his potency.
SOUTHERN DERBY
As a player, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder played in plenty of southern clashes and is excited about this week’s clash: “There is nothing like a classic Southern Derby to bring out the best in both the Crusaders and the Highlanders. It is always a great game with an amazing atmosphere and with both teams playing well and hungry for the win there is sure to be plenty of passion on the field this Friday.”

HEAD-TO-HEAD BATTLES
One of the great things about the conference system is seeing the best New Zealand players square off against each other – and this clash is full of those match-ups. At halfback, All Blacks incumbent Aaron Smith faces former All Black Andy Ellis while at fullback the Highlanders Ben Smith tests himself against the resurgent Israel Dagg. In the pack, Elliot Dixon and Jordan Taufua are primed for a physical encounter in the number six jersey.

ALL SOLD OUT

The atmosphere under the roof for this clash will be incredible with over 23,000 people expected to pack out Forsyth-Barr Stadium. Andrew James, leader of the #LandersArmy fan group, said: “We have our mojo back and the Crusaders will be the ones that are a bit nervy. We are confident for the W in the glass house and can’t wait to get there.”

TEAMS
Highlanders: 15: Ben Smith (C) 14: Waisake Naholo 13: Matt Faddes 12: Malakai Fekitoa 11: Patrick Osborne 10: Lima Sopoaga 9: Aaron Smith 8: Luke Whitelock 7: Dan Pryor 6: Elliot Dixon 5: Joe Wheeler 4: Alex Ainley 3: Josh Hohneck 2: Ash Dixon 1: Daniel Lienert-Brown
Reserves: 16. Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17. Craig Millar, 18. Siosiua Halanukonuka, 19. Tom Franklin, 20. Liam Squire, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Marty Banks, 23. Teihorangi Walden

Crusaders: 15: Israel Dagg 14: Johnny McNicholl 13: Kieron Fonotia 12: David Havili 11: Jone Macilai 10: Richie Mo’unga 9: Andy Ellis 8: Kieran Read (C) 7: Matt Todd 6: Jordan Taufua 5: Sam Whitelock 4: Luke Romano 3: Owen Franks 2: Codie Taylor 1: Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: 16: Ged Robinson 17: Joe Moody 18: Mike Alaalatoa 19: Scott Barrett 20: Tim Boys 21: Mitchell Drummond 22: Ryan Crotty 23: Marty McKenzie