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PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Lions v Crusaders

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Friday, July 22, 2016    allblacks.com    Getty Images

Match details: Lions v Crusaders, 2.30am, Sunday 24 July (NZT), Ellis Park, Johannesburg

TALE OF THE TAPE
The Lions took a massive strategic gamble last week by resting 15 of their top players for the trip to Buenos Aires. Victory in Argentina would have seen the Lions top the Super Rugby table and take home ground advantage all the way to the final. Although the Lions sacrificed a minor premiership, they now boast a well-rested team to take on the jet-lagged Crusaders. Todd Blackadder’s side will be hoping that travel is not a factor as they search for an eighth straight win over the Lions.

QUICK TAP: CRUSADERS WANT TO CREATE PLAYOFF PRESSURE FOR LIONS

FIVE CHANGES
The Crusaders have made five changes to the side that was thumped 35-10 by the Hurricanes last week. In the forwards, Scott Barrett and Jimmy Tupou make way for the returning Sam Whitelock and Jordan Taufua at lock and blindside flanker respectively. In the backline, late withdrawal from last week Andy Ellis reclaims the number nine jersey while speedy wing Jone Macilai takes the place of the injured Nemani Nadolo on the left wing. The final change comes on the bench where Fiji international Ben Volavola replaces Mitchell Hunt.

GAME BREAKERS
Although the loss of Nemani Nadolo is a big blow to the Crusaders, they still have plenty of strike power to trouble the Lions. The electric Johnny McNicholl has been one of the Crusaders best attackers all year and sits second (behind Nadolo) on the Super Rugby list for most clean breaks with 27. At fullback, Israel Dagg has been a constant threat while Richie Mo’unga is fast developing a reputation as one of the most effective playmakers in Super Rugby. For the Lions, right wing Ruan Combrinick has been their most dangerous with ball in hand. Combrinick has topped all of the Lions attacking stats and was rewarded with a call up to the Springboks for the June Test series against Ireland.

TODDY SAYS
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadders said: "I feel like we're going to this game absolutely fresh and ready to take those lessons about high-pressure rugby where everything is at stake. The Lions will come out, they're at home, they'll be excited to play and we've just got to put them under pressure and if we do that then we'll give ourselves a bloody good chance.”


TEAMS
Crusaders: 15: Israel Dagg 14: Johnny McNicholl 13: Ryan Crotty 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: Ben Funnell 17: Alex Hodgman 18: Mike Alaalatoa 19: Scott Barrett 20: Jimmy Tupou 21: Mitchell Drummond 22: Ben Volavola 23: Kieron Fonotia

Lions: 15: Andries Coetzee 14: Ruan Combrinick 13: Lionel Mapoe 12: Rohan Janse van Rensburg 11: Courtnall Skosan 10: Elton Jantjies 9: Faf de Klerk 8: Warren Whiteley 7: Warwick Tecklenburg 6: Jaco Kriel 5: Franco Mostert 4: Andries Ferreira 3: Julian Redelinghuys 2: Malcolm Marx 1: Dylan Smith
Reserves: 16: Armand van der Merwe 17: Corne Fourie 18: Jacques Van Rooyen 19: Ruan Ackermann 20: Cyle Brink 21: Ross Cronje 22: Howard Mnisi 23: Jaco van der Walt