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Preview: Crusaders v Force

Photosport

Friday, April 6, 2007    Sportal.co.nz    Photosport

This year the Crusaders will be well aware of the dangers posed by John Mitchell's mob and, after last week's muck-up at Sydney, won't be taking anything for granted.

VENUE & TIME: Jade Stadium, Christchurch, Saturday April 7, 19:35 NZT.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 1 –Crusaders 0, Force 0, drawn 1.

LAST TIME: April 21, 2006 (Perth) – Force 23-23 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: Chris Jack's return from All Black camp lasted about 90 minutes before he got trapped in an awkward position at a ruck and suffered hamstring damage that will keep him on the bank for another month at least. All the other changes made by Robbie Deans are voluntary. The Force lost halfback Matt Henjak to a minor knee injury but Chris O'Young is a useful replacement. Angus Scott drops off the reserve bench and Scott Staniforth and David Pusey are long-term casualties.

FORM: The Crusaders got away with one last week; despite running out to a 22-5 lead in 30 minutes they made hard work of beating a very average Waratahs side. The red-and-blacks seem to turn in one of these every year against a lowly-rated opponent and then bounce back big time, so the Force need to watch out. Crusaders training would not have been a happy place during the week and their minds should be wonderfully concentrated on Saturday. The Force had most of the game against the Sharks and deserved their four points but a lack of try-scoring punch will be worrying Mitchell as he brings his team to Christchurch; you need a long memory to recall the last side to defeat the Crusaders at home by tackling and kicking penalties.

WHO'S HOT: In recent weeks the Crusaders have looked a champion side only in patches. Dan Carter will be asked to play a big role this week, not least by slowing down the helter-skelter pace that was attempted at Sydney. The Crusaders will want more from their set pieces, which had the wobbles at times last week, and more accuracy under pressure in the backs. The tackling, from 1 to 22, also needs to improve. Richie McCaw will put David Pocock through his paces; if the Force teenager stays the distance he'll have done well. The Force has a workmanlike pack and Nathan Sharpe is always solid, while the backs offer some clever attacking options. Cameron Shepherd is a big player on attack and Matt Giteau is now playing like one of the best midfielders in the competition.

WE THINK: After trying hard to gift the Waratahs a win last week, the Crusaders will be in no mood for charity on Saturday and the Force will have a tough night. We think the Crusaders will win well and could end up with five points; a margin of 10-15 points would not be a surprise.

TEAMS:

Crusaders: 1 – Wyatt Crockett, 2 – Corey Flynn, 3 – Campbell Johnstone, 4 – Ross Filipo, 5 – Michael Paterson, 6 – Reuben Thorne, 7 – Richie McCaw (captain), 8 – Mose Tuiali'i, 9 – Andy Ellis, 10 – Daniel Carter, 11 – Caleb Ralph, 12 – Aaron Mauger, 13 – Casey Laulala, 14 – Rico Gear, 15 – Leon MacDonald.

Reserves: 16 – Ti'i Paulo, 17 –Ben Franks, 18 – Kieran Read, 19 – Johnny Leo'o, 20 – Kevin Senio, 21 – Stephen Brett, 22 – Scott Hamilton.

Western Force: 1 – Gareth Hardy 2 - Tai McIsaac, 3 - Troy Takiari, 4 - Rudi Vedelago, 5 - Nathan Sharpe (captain), 6 - Richard Brown, 7 - David Pocock, 8 - Scott Fava, 9 - Chris O'Young, 10 - James Hilgendorf, 11 -Cameron Shepherd, 12 - Matt Giteau, 13 - Ryan Cross, 14 - Digby Ioane, 15 - Drew Mitchell.

Reserves: 16 – Brendan Cannon, 17 – AJ Whalley, 18 – Luke Doherty, 19 – Matt Hodgson, 20 – Jon McGrath, 21 – Junior Pelesasa, 22 – Haig Sare.

REFEREE: Mark Lawrence