PREVIEW: Crusaders v Blues

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Thursday, July 12, 2018    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

Match details: Crusaders v Blues, AMI Stadium, Christchurch, July 14, 7.35pm

Played: 31
Won: Crusaders 20, Blues 11
Last time:Blues 24-32 Crusaders, Eden Park, May 19, 2018

With only losses in the third and fourth rounds the Crusaders have been outstanding through the preliminary competition. Their losses were to the Hurricanes (19-29a) and the Highlanders (17-25a) but on home soil they reversed those results (24-13) and (45-22) respectively. They beat the Chiefs twice (45-23h) and (34-20a). Their other successes were against: the Stormers (45-28h), the Bulls (33-14h), the Lions (14-8a), the Jaguares (40-14a), the Sunwolves (33-11h), the Brumbies (21-8a), the Rebels (55-10a), the Waratahs (31-29h) and the Blues (32-34a). The Blues face a season without a win over a New Zealand team having lost to the Highlanders (34-41a and (16-34h), the Chiefs (21-27h and (19-21a), the Hurricanes ((15-36h and 24-42a) while they lost their home game against the Crusaders (24-32). Their wins were against the Lions (38-35a), the Sunwolves (24-10a), the Waratahs (24-21a) and their only home win of the season, against the Reds (39-16). Other losses were to: the Stormers (20-37a), the Sharks (40-63h), the Jaguares (13-20h) and the Rebels (10-20h).

Taking the chance to refresh players ahead of the playoffs, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has made six changes to the starting lineup this week. Prop Tim Perry is back from a hamstring injury while tighthead Michael Alaalatoa gets a start. Lock Quinten Strange steps up with Scott Barrett being rested this week while Jordan Taufua will start on the blindside of the scrum. Mitchell Drummond starts at halfback while Israel Dagg has been named at fullback. Otago hooker Sam Anderson-Heather has been called into the squad on the substitutes bench and may earn a Crusaders cap.

While the Crusaders are celebrating 20 years since their first Super Rugby success, the Blues are at the end of an era with flanker Jerome Kaino making his final appearance for the side in his 139th game, second only to Keven Mealamu in games for the Blues. As a result coach Tana Umaga said the side were concentrating on giving Kaino the best send off possible. "We are going into a cauldron in Christchurch but we have to go with eyes wide open and also take confidence from the game last week. We've worked on areas that were pretty obvious in terms of our defence but there will be no lack of motivation to play against the Crusaders. Our forward effort was good last week but we know it needs to go another notch and I think some of the play by our backs, that in tough times they started to find their confidence. For us we have to do well on both sides of the ball. We had some individual lapses in defence and that's something we've worked on. They [the Crusaders] are quality side and have been for a long time, but we are excited to get out there and do our best for us and for Jerome," Umaga said.
The Crusaders' run of seven consecutive wins over the Blues is a streak twice as long as either side has achieved in the history of their encounters.


The Blues have not won an away game against the Crusaders since 2004, a run of 10 losses. (Opta)

1.Tim Perry, 2.Andrew Makalio, 3.Michael Alaalatoa, 4.Quinten Strange, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Kieran Read, 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Richie Mo'unga, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Jack Goodhue, 14.Seta Tamanivalu, 15.Israel Dagg.

Substitutes: 16.Sam Anderson-Heather, 17.Wyatt Crockett, 18.Donald Brighouse, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Pete Samu, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Mitchell Hunt, 23.Manasa Mataele.

Blues: 1.Alex Hodgman, 2.Matt Moulds, 3.Ofa Tuungafasi, 4.Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 5.Benn Nee-Nee, 6.Jerome Kaino, 7.Blake Gibson, 8.Akira Ioane, 9.Augustine Pulu (captain), 10.Stephen Perofeta, 11.Caleb Clarke, 12.Rieko Ioane, 13.Michael Collins, 14.Melani Nanai, 15.Matt Duffie.

Substitutes: 16.Ross Wright, 17.Pauliasi Manu, 18.Sione Mafileo, 19.Jacob Pierce, 20.Murphy Taramai, 21.Sam Nock, 22.Bryn Gatland, 23.Tamati Tua.