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Preview: Highlanders v Crusaders

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Thursday, March 2, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Round 2: Highlanders v Crusaders, 7.35pm Saturday, March 4, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin

Tale of the Tape
Few contests raise passions in New Zealand rugby like a southern derby. The Highlanders made life difficult for themselves when handing the Chiefs two try-scoring chances last week, both of them accepted willingly. While the Crusaders struggled their way to a 17-13 win over the Brumbies who, with a little bit of luck, might still have won the game. Both sides will be looking for redress and a tight contest is on the cards

No pressure
It's a tough environment by any standards but nothing quite tests the mettle like being asked to fill the first five-eighths role for the Crusaders in such a contest. That's the task for Mitchell Hunt in Dunedin. Just think of his predecessors in the wake of Richie Mo'unga's injury: Dan Carter, Colin Slade, Andrew Mehrtens. It's pretty daunting. But the Highlanders don't escape. Richard Buckman, back from Japan, and back from injury last year, has to fill the boots of Ben Smith at fullback. No pressure.

Opportunity knocks
Such a prospectively tight game offers a great chance for lesser lights to step up. Consider some options: flanker James Lentjes in the loose against Matt Todd, No.8 Whetu Douglas trying his stuff against Liam Squire, wing Tevita Li attempting to put some over Israel Dagg, centre Jack Goodhue looking to score some points over Malakai Fekitoa, halfback Bryn Hall hoping to enjoy the benefit of a dominant, and experienced, pack to meet the challenge of marking Aaron Smith.

Lima's limelight
With Aaron Cruden having made the decision to head overseas at the end of the Super Rugby season he runs the risk of having his right to be regarded as the second-string All Blacks first five-eighths challenged by a player likely to be around for the longer term in Lima Sopoaga. This is just the sort of game that would give the southern contender the chance to show that he can step up and it is all in front of him, especially if he can retain his goal-kicking touch to go alongside his other obvious skills.

Teams:

Highlanders: 1.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Siosuia Halanukonuka, 4.Alex Ainley, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Elliot Dixon (captain), 7.James Lentjes, 8.Liam Squire, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Rob Thompson, 13.Malakai Fekitoa, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Richard Buckman.

Substitutes: 16.Adrian Smith, 17.Craig Millar, 18.Siate Tokolahi, 19.Joe Wheeler, 20.Gareth Evans, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Fletcher Smith, 23.Patrick Osborne.

Crusaders: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Whetu Douglas, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Mitchell Hunt, 11.Seta Tamanivalu, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Israel Dagg, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Jed Brown, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Marty McKenzie, 23.George Bridge.