QUARTERFINAL PREVIEW: Crusaders v Highlanders

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Thursday, June 20, 2019    Getty Images

Match details:
Crusaders vs Highlanders, 7.35pm Friday 21 June, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch. TICKETS.

Played: 36
Won: Crusaders 24, Highlanders 11, Drawn 1
Last time: Crusaders 43, Highlanders 17 (12 April 2019)
Referee: Jaco Peyper

The Crusaders qualified top in the New Zealand conference and first on the overall ladder after winning eleven games this season. The Highlanders won six games in the regular season and snuck into the playoffs in eighth position after thumping the Waratahs 49-12 in Invercargill last week. The southern rivals have only met once this year with the first game being cancelled in the wake of the Christchurch terror attack and the second being won comfortably by the Crusaders 43-17. 


The match-up between young pivots Richie Mo’unga and Josh Ioane could be a defining factor in this encounter. While Mo’unga’s big-game pedigree is well established after leading the Crusaders to titles in 2017 and 2018, Ioane has made great strides this season and is highly regarded by coach Aaron Mauger. "I think if you look at Josh Ioane's game last week, there was a real step up in his game. We know that he can run and that he is tough but I though how he controlled the game and field position was really critical last weekend that set us up to score some points," Mauger said.

Un-signed at the start of the year, Crusaders rookie Sevu Reece has set the competition alight with 13 tries in just 11 appearances. Blessed with incredible pace and deceptive strength, Reece has the ability to make something out of nothing and will need to be watched closely by the Highlanders defence. Interestingly, the Highlanders have selected regular mid-fielder Patelesio Tomkinson on the left wing to mark Reece. Tomkinson is renowned for his strong defence and will relish the chance to shut down one of Super Rugby’s most exciting attacking talents.
Aaron Smith has provided 11 try assists in Super Rugby 2019 – the most of any player involved in the playoffs.

Winning away from home has been an issue for the Highlanders over the past couple of seasons and it doesn’t get any tougher than taking on the defending champions on their home track. The Crusaders are nigh-on unstoppable at their Orangetheory Stadium fortress and will be hoping for plenty of support in this knock-out southern derby. With 12-capped All Blacks in their starting fifteen, the Crusaders head into this clash as heavy favourites but a visiting team boasting quality players like Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Aaron Smith and Luke Whitelock can never be discounted.

David Havili, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Tim Perry, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor

Ben Smith (cc), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Teihorangi Walden, Patelesio Tomkinson, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (cc), James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Jackson Hemopo, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Reserves: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Elliot Dixon