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Preview: Chiefs v Crusaders

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Sportal.co.nz     26 Jul 2012     Getty Images

It shouldn’t be any different on Friday night in the Tron.

VENUE & TIME: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton, Friday July 27 @ 1935 NZST

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 19; Chiefs 5, Crusaders 14.

LAST TIME: July 6, 2012 (Hamilton, round 17) – Chiefs 21-28 Crusaders.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Chiefs show several changes from the team that lost in Wellington two weeks ago, with Sona Taumalolo and Mahonri Schwalger returning in the front row while the back four sees Asaeli Tikoirotuma starting on the left wing, Andrew Horrell at centre, Tim Nanai-Williams on the right wing and Robbie Robinson at fullback, with Jackson Willison and Lelia Masaga now on the bench. The only change the Crusaders have made to the team that thumped the Bulls last week is a straight swap of Franks brothers in the front row, with Ben starting and Owen going to the bench. Kieran Read is still unavailable due to his rib injury.

FORM:
Chiefs:
Round 15: beat Blues 41-34 (a)
Round 16: beat Highlanders 27-21 (a)
Round 17: lost to Crusaders 21-28 (h)
Round 18: lost to Hurricanes 25-28 (a)
Round 19: bye

Crusaders:
Round 15: beat Highlanders 51-18 (h)
Round 16: lost to Hurricanes 22-23 (h)
Round 17: beat Chiefs 28-21 (a)
Round 18: beat Force 38-24 (h)
Round 19: beat Bulls 28-13 (h, qf)

The Chiefs rather limped into the playoffs, if a 12-4 season can be said to end that way. While both their closing losses were narrow and each contained a hotly-debated try awarded to the opposition after TMO reviews, the inescapable fact is that they were both losses and, as a result, first place on the ladder slipped from the Chiefs grasp. The Chiefs looked very good in patches of each game but struggled in the set pieces, especially against the Crusaders, which prevented them getting any roll on. They remain dangerous, of course, and there are any number of potential match-winners in the team. The week off will have allowed everyone to draw a bead on the issues and really get stuck into them, so there will be no excuses this Friday night.

The Crusaders had few problems with the Bulls in the elimination match last week, as the visitors never threatened to boss the match at any stage and the end result had all the inevitability of Bradley Wiggins’ Tour de France win – it was obvious who was in charge from a long way out. The Bulls might have scored two tries to one, but any team that gives Daniel Carter nine shots at goal as well as a dropped goal chance is going to need a lot more than two tries. The Crusaders were superior in every department and, from 1 to 15, outplayed their individual opponents. The seven-time champions were never stretched and, to complete a good weekend, got this match instead of one in Cape Town as a bonus.

WHO'S HOT: Last time these teams met Craig Clarke was a late scratching owing to flu, and it was obvious how much he contributes every week when he was no longer in the lineup. The lineout became a shambles and the scrum often buckled; neither of these things happen often when the skipper is in the engine room. Pressure will go on Mahonri Schwalger to improve on his lineout work from that evening and he is normally a lot better than that, as well as being an important part of the Chiefs gain-line attack and a hard-hitting defensive strongman. After a lot of big games over a long career, the Samoan World Cup skipper knows what’s needed. Tawera Kerr-Barlow has been influential in a number of ways in recent matches, especially when giving opposite number a hard time. His general play has been good and, when allowed to snipe around the fringes, he can be a catalyst for some dangerous Chiefs attacks.

Although Richie McCaw is best known for his prowess in the No 7 jersey, he had a huge role in the domination the Crusaders forwards achieved against the Bulls while wearing 8. Whether on attack or defence, he was always strong, always there and always advancing his team’s cause while stifling the opposition. Sam Whitelock played up to his best form, dominating in the air and contributing in many ways around the park. There are few more gifted athletes among the locking fraternity in this competition, and even fewer who perform to such a high level each week. Ryan Crotty could well be one of the most important Crusaders on the park, since he has Sonny Bill Williams to deal with defensively and a tight defence to try and open. Many of the Crusaders best moments come when their unobtrusive No 12 makes space for someone else, something he is proving adept at doing. The All Blacks need at least one new midfielder, and a good game here will advance Crotty’s claims.

WE THINK: Both sides have their strengths and frailties – more of the former in each case, to be sure – and so it will come down to accuracy on a night forecast to be fine but cold. Forward strength could rule a game like this and the Crusaders have an edge in the tight, as well as being comfortable playing without the ball for long stretches. We’ll tip the visitors by one score in what promises to be an excellent, and particularly tough, match.

TEAMS:

Chiefs: 1. Sona Taumalolo, 2. Mahonri Schwalger, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Craig Clarke (capt), 5. Brodie Retallick, 6. Liam Messam, 7. Tanerau Latimer, 8. Kane Thompson, 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 12. Sonny Bill Williams, 13. Andrew Horrell, 14. Tim Nanai-Williams, 15. Robbie Robinson.

Replacements: 16. Hika Elliot, 17. Ben Afeaki, 18. Michael Fitzgerald, 19. Sam Cane, 20. Brendon Leonard, 21. Jackson Willison, 22. Lelia Masaga.


Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Ben Franks, 4. Luke Romano, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Richie McCaw (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Adam Whitelock, 15. Israel Dagg.

Replacements: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Owen Franks, 18. Tom Donnelly, 19. Luke Whitelock, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Tom Taylor, 22. Sean Maitland.



REFEREE: Craig Joubert (SA)