PREVIEW: Crusaders v Chiefs
Thursday, February 22, 2018 Lynn McConnell Getty Images
Wins: Crusaders 18, Chiefs 13
Last match: Crusaders 27-13 Chiefs, AMI Stadium, July 29, 2017 (Semifinal)
TALE OF THE TAPE
Two losses in their warm-up games to the Hurricanes and Highlanders are not the usual for the Crusaders but they were missing some of their All Blacks for the first game and those who returned for the second were still finding their feet. The Chiefs missed out to the Blues in their first game but managed to beat the Brumbies in Australia. The Crusaders are still without cornerstone props Joe Moody and Owen Franks but still have Wyatt Crockett and Michael Alaatoa to call on. Lock Brodie Retallick returns to action after missing the northern hemisphere tour with the All Blacks.
QUICK TAP: CHIEFS READY FOR ANOTHER CLASSIC CRUSADERS CLASH
There's probably been no more keenly anticipated event in Super Rugby this year than the sight of Damian McKenzie turning out at first five-eighths. It was signalled last year when Chiefs stalwart Aaron Cruden announced he would be leaving that McKenzie would be tried in the role. It is a position he has played much of his earlier rugby in and with Lima Sopoaga having said he will be off overseas there is pressure on to secure a back-up to Beauden Barrett at Test level. That he is facing off against his main rival, Richie Mo'unga in this opening game, adds spice to the contest. But a fairer assessment of both players may be better left until their second meeting on June 2, the perfect All Blacks trial ahead of the June series with France.
Having missed the latter part of the last season on personal leave lock Brodie Retallick was out of the public eye for the longest period of his career but the 71-game veteran for the Chiefs is reported to be firing on all cylinders and looking forward to picking up where he left off as one of the most influential forwards in the world game. And who better to do it against that his old international locking mates, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Scott Barrett? They will provide quite the welcoming committee in what is certain to be a key area of the contest, the battle up front. Retallick will have another Canterbury man alongside him in Dominic Bird and the clash is shaping in the mouth watering category.
The contest to fill Tawera Kerr-Barlow's place in the All Blacks squad is wide open and two of the potential protagonists will start the game – Brad Weber for the Chiefs and Bryn Hall for the Crusaders. Weber is looking more like the player of old if early indications are a guide having spent last season recovering from a broken leg. Hall has settled back into the Crusaders environment having thrived as a result of his exposure last year and then enjoying a productive Mitre 10 Cup with North Harbour. Both players have their claims for consideration and it is likely to be their showings in the New Zealand derbies that best states their case.
FAST FACT: Damian McKenzie beat 80 defenders in Super Rugby in 2017, that's 19 more than the next highest player, David Havili of the Crusaders. (Opta)
Crusaders: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Michael Alaalatoa, 4.Luke Romano, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Peter Samu, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Jordan Taufua, 9.Bryn Hall, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.David Havili.
Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Chris King, 18.Oliver Jager, 19.Scott Barrett, 20.Billy Harmon, 21.Mitchell Drummond, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Manasa Mataele.
Chiefs: 1.Aidan Ross, 2.Nathan Harris, 3.Nepo Laulala, 4.Brodie Retallick, 5.Dominic Bird, 6.Mitchell Brown, 7.Sam Cane (captain), 8.Taleni Seu, 9.Brad Weber, 10.Damian McKenzie, 11.Solomon Alaimalo, 12.Johnny Faauli, 13.Anton Lienert-Brown, 14.Shaun Stevenson, 15.Charlie Ngatai (captain).
Substitutes: 16.Liam Polwart, 17.Atunaisa Moli, 18.Angus Ta'avao, 19.Liam Messam, 20.Lachlan Boshier, 21.Te Toiroa Tahuiriorangi, 22.Marty McKenzie, 23.Sean Wainui.
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