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Preview: Rebels v Crusaders

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Sportal.co.nz     10 May 2012     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: AAMI Park, Melbourne, Saturday May 12 @ 1940 AEST

HEAD TO HEAD: No previous matches.

LAST TIME: N/A.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Rebels have to get by for the next two weeks without flanker Luke Jones, who was cited and suspended for a tip tackle against the Bulls. They have also lost utility back Richard Kingi to a hamstring strain for this week at least. Todd Blackadder has chosen to rest a number of players for this match, although one of them, Tom Donnelly, is bracketed in the reserves after hurting his back last week. If Donnelly does make it, there will be five All Blacks on the bench as Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg have all been left out of the starting XV; Richie McCaw takes over the captaincy.

FORM:
Rebels:
Round 7: beat Blues 34-23 (h)
Round 8: lost to Brumbies 6-37 (a)
Round 9: lost to Waratahs 21-30 (a)
Round 10: bye
Round 11: lost to Bulls 35-41 (h)

Crusaders:
Round 7: lost to Bulls 30-32 (a)
Round 8: beat Stormers 31-24 (h)
Round 9: beat Hurricanes 42-14 (a)
Round 10: beat Waratahs 37-33 (a)
Round 11: beat Reds 15-11 (h)

The Rebels played an entertaining match against the Bulls last Friday, collecting two deserved points after an open game. They had four tries and 28 points on the board by halftime – both team records – but still trailed at the break. Although chasing the game for most of its duration, the Rebels showed they could hit back quickly after conceding points although it was hard to shake the feeling that the Bulls always had matters in hand and, when they started concentrating properly, this was borne out by the fact they proved almost impossible to break down over the closing stages.

The Crusaders had to work hard against the Reds last week after conceding a try from the opening kickoff, and only concerted pressure and accurate goal-kicking let them get away with a 15-11 win. The team made an uncharacteristic number of mistakes against an aggressive Reds defence but countered by offering staunch defence of their own. Four straight wins in the last month, even if two have been a little ragged, still says the Crusaders are on track and it will take a strong side to beat them. Unless the visitors do not have their minds on the job, the Rebels do not appear strong enough to do the trick.

WHO'S HOT: Kurtley Beale looked very sharp at fly-half last week and plenty of talk has started up as to whether this will be his Wallaby role in 2012. That doesn’t really matter for the Rebels, who are more than happy to build on his dangerous running and passing game while looking for sustained accuracy off the kicking tee. The Rebels are getting good service out of Rodney Blake at the moment, with the big bloke doing his share in the tight and proving effective around the park. Those same qualities are shared by Gareth Delve, who has turned in a very good season both as a captain and as a non-stop loose forward.

With the first All Black team due to be named in less than a month, the form of lock Luke Romano is sure to be under scrutiny in the coming weeks. A big man who does his tight work well, he is also impressing with a busy and powerful all-round game and has turned in a strong season so far. Richie McCaw makes his first start after a couple of cameos and while it would be expecting too much for him to hit top gear immediately, his ability to work the breakdowns will be watched with interest. Tom Taylor may not be in the test reckoning just yet, but he has impressed everyone with his calm play at first-five and a deadly accurate boot off the tee; twice in the last month he has scored all the Crusaders points in narrow wins and deserves his place at first-five even with Carter available.

WE THINK: Unless they make a real hash of it, the Crusaders should be too strong in this one. The forwards have fired up nicely in recent weeks and have dominated some strong teams in that time, while the backline is starting to look likely. The Rebels fashioned several good tries against the Bulls, but they won’t get the same midfield leeway this week and may struggle to hold the visitors within 10-15 points.

TEAMS:
Rebels: 1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Rodney Blake, 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Tim Davidson, 7. Michael Lipman, 8. Gareth Delve (capt), 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Cooper Vuna, 12. Lachlan Mitchell, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Mark Gerrard, 15. Julian Huxley.

Replacements: 16. Adam Freier, 17. Jono Owen, 18. Alistair Campbell, 19. Ryan Hodson, 20. Nic Stirzaker, 21. James Hilgendorf, 22. Stirling Mortlock.


Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Richie McCaw (capt), 8. Luke Whitelock, 9. Willi Heinz, 10. Tom Taylor, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Daniel Carter, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Sean Maitland, 15. Tom Marshall.

Replacements: 16. Ben Funnell, 17. Ben Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly or Ross Kennedy, 19. Kieran Read, 20. Andy Ellis, 21. Ryan Crotty, 22. Israel Dagg.



REFEREE: Jaco Peyper (SA)