PREVIEW: Hurricanes v Crusaders

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Friday, July 14, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Hurricanes v Crusaders, 7.30pm Saturday, 15 July 2017, Westpac Stadium

The Hurricanes come into the final round-robin, and home, game having lost their last Super Rugby game to the Chiefs (14-17). Three wins over the Cheetahs (61-7), the Bulls (34-20) and the Force (34-12) preceded the Chiefs loss and before them the Hurricanes went down to the Crusaders 12-20 in Christchurch. The Crusaders in the meantime have been on a record-breaking streak of wins through the season and after their win over the Hurricanes they added the Chiefs (31-24), the Rebels (41-19) and the Highlanders (25-22). The sides have met 30 times previously with the Crusaders winning 18 and the Hurricanes 10. Two were drawn and their 2011 clash was cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch earthquake.

All teams are affected by the need to blend their returning All Blacks into the side but few are faced with the conundrum the Crusaders face by having to leave out the All Blacks starting front row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks. They've also decided to bring Sam Whitelock on from the bench. By comparison, the Hurricanes are not so badly affected up front while they have their All Blacks inside backs supplemented by Julian Savea on one wing and Jordie Barrett at fullback. Add to the that Nehe Milner-Skudder continuing his comeback run on the right wing and it is certainly the Crusaders who are worse off in that department.

The midfield for both sides are set to provide a fascinating game within a game. Second five-eighths Ngani Laumape will have learnt plenty as a result of his All Blacks involvement and his pairing with Vince Aso has been one of the key strengths of the Hurricanes campaign. Their combination is capable, providing they get quality ball, of cutting some merry capers in anything resembling reasonable conditions in Wellington. Opposed to them David Havili has been named ahead of the injured regulars Ryan Crotty and Tim Bateman, but he still offers plenty. His liaison with Jack Goodhue could be telling, both defensively and on attack. Goodhue was part of the All Blacks squad without being required but stood to learn plenty from the experience. Just how that manifests itself on the field will be especially interesting.

Hurricanes: 1.Ben May, 2.Ricky Riccitelli, 3.Jeff To'omaga-Allen, 4.Mark Abbott, 5.Sam Lousi, 6.Vaea Fifita, 7.Ardie Savea, 8.Brad Shields, 9.TJ Perenara (captain), 10.Beauden Barrett, 11.Julian Savea, 12.Ngani Laumape, 13.Vince Aso, 14.Nehe Milner-Skudder, 15.Jordie Barrett.

Substitutes: 16.James O'Reilly, 17.Chris Eves, 18.Loni Uhila, 19.Reed Prinsep, 20.Callum Gibbins, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22.Wes Goosen, 23.Cory Jane.

Crusaders: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Ben Funnell, 3.Michael Alaalatoa, 4.Luke Romano, 5.Scott Barrett, 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd (captain), 8.Kieran Read, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.David Havili, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.Israel Dagg.

Substitutes: 16.Andrew Makalia, 17.Tim Perry, 18.Oliver Jager, 19.Sam Whitelock, 20.Jed Brown, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Sean Wainui.