PREVIEW: HIghlanders v Crusaders

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Thursday, March 15, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Highlanders v Crusaders, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, March 17, 7.35pm

Played: 32
Won: Highlanders 10, Crusaders 22
Last time: Highlanders 0-17 Crusaders, AMI Stadium, July 22, 2017


The Highlanders have banked winner's points from their first two games, against the Blues and Stormers, maintaining their first round momentum in spite of having the bye in only their second week. They faced a tough period in the second half against the South Africans but finished strongly to secure the win. Hooker Ash Dixon and loose forward Elliot Dixon are back from injury and will come off the bench while loosehead prop Aki Seiuli will have his first start of the year. Fellow prop Kalolo Tuiloma stands to make his debut from the bench. Tevita Li will start on the left wing wing while Kayne Hammington will be the halfback replacement. The Crusaders, away for the first time this season, struggled after the Hurricanes made a fast start to the game and also lost leaders Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty early in the game. They started well with good wins at home against the Chiefs and Stormers. Whitelock completed his HIA protocols and will start in an unchanged forward pack. Mitchell Drummond has the start at halfback while Tim Bateman replaces Ryan Crotty at second five-eighths.


It is a cliché to talk about games being won up front, but that is definitely the case when the Highlanders and Crusaders go to battle and it has always been the way when the Dunedin-Christchurch rugby link has been concerned. The Crusaders have a formidable look with four of their front five internationals against a more reserved Highlanders unit. But that hasn't mattered in the past and is unlikely to again. Lock Jackson Hemopo has been a big improver already in the campaign while Tom Franklin has taken on the lineout leadership. That will be important against Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett while the contest between Seiulu and Mike Alaalatoa will be another focal point which could have a bearing, especially at scrum time.


In the absence of Ryan Crotty, due to concussion, Tim Bateman steps in to second five-eighths. It's not a new situation for him and he has shown how adept he can be in handling the pressure. What will be of interest is how his rivals Teihorangi Walden and Rob Thompson cope with the Bateman liaison with Jack Goodhue. Both sides have benefited from their strong midfields and the collisions are shaping as big ones and the race to secure the breakdowns will be an added feature to this contest. How will Dillon Hunt fare against Matt Todd? It's all part of the fascination of this particular derby.


Stung by an upset loss the Crusaders are heading south with some fire in their bellies. Coach Scott Robertson summed up the side's hunger when saying: "We love these derby games against our neighbours in Dunedin. The boys have prepared well, they're really clear and looking forward to what is going to be a great battle on Saturday night."


The Highlanders are on an eight game winning streak at home, their best run of 13 wins in 2000-02 while the Crusaders have won nine of their last 11 games against the Highlanders, but are looking to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since April 2015.


Highlanders: 1.Aki Seiuli, 2.Liam Coltman, 3.Siate Tokolahi, 4.Jackson Hemopo, 5.Tom Franklin, 6.Liam Squire, 7.Dillon Hunt, 8.Luke Whitelock, 9.Aaron Smith, 10.Lima Sopoaga, 11.Tevita Li, 12.Teihorangi Walden, 13.Rob Thompson, 14.Waisake Naholo, 15.Ben Smith (captain).

Substitutes: 16.Ash Dixon (captain), 17.Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18.Kalolo Tuiloma, 19.Shannon Frizell, 20.Elliot Dixon, 21.Kayne Hammington, 22.Fletcher Smith, 23.Matt Faddes

Crusaders: 1.Wyatt Crockett, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Michael Alaalatoa, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Jordan Taufua, 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Mitchell Hunt, 11.George Bridge, 12.Tim Bateman, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Chris King, 18.Oliver Jager, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Billy Harmon, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Mike Delany, 23.Manasa Mataele.