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Preview: Chiefs v Crusaders

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Sportal.co.nz     23 May 2013     Getty Images

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 20; Chiefs 6, Crusaders 14.
LAST TIME: Investec Super Rugby 2012 semi-final: Chiefs 20-17 Crusaders at Waikato Stadium

MISSING IN ACTION:
A slight calf tweak while in camp is enough for Ben Afeaki to sit out Friday's match, with another Big Ben – Ben Tameifuna – getting his opportunity to start.

Patrick Osborne has also been favoured for this clash, with Lelia Masaga making way on the right wing.

Flanker Sam Cane returns from injury to take his place on the bench.

For the Crusaders, Israel Dagg returns to the starting line-up after he was dropped a week earlier. Instead it was Robbie Fruean who was dropped in favour of Tom Taylor, who switches to inside centre and Ryan Crotty outside him at No.13.

Corey Flynn's tweaked hamstring allows Codie Taylor a chance to stake his claim in the No.2 jersey.

FORM:
A marked defensive improvement was something the Chiefs can reflect on following their confidence-boosting 17-12 win over the Hurricanes in Week 13.

While their attack looked shakey at times, they were made to play a large part of the second half without the ball as a desperate Hurricanes outfit threw all they could for a match-winner.

With defensive improvements vastly needed after second and fourth quarter defensive leaks against the Sharks and Reds, coach Dave Rennie will be feeling confident that his side's attacking potential will complement the defensive efforts come Friday.

The Crusaders, meanwhile, are looking more dangerous week by week. The Canterbury franchise, too, had a remarkable defensive display in humiliating the Blues 23-3.

Despite a poor start to the season, the Crusaders are beginning to hit their straps at the right time to the relief of coach Todd Blackadder.

Dan Carter's kicking in open play has been well complemented by Tom Taylor's goal-kicking, though it's expected Carter will take back the kicking tee in the next week or so.

After opening their 2013 campaign with two defeats, the visitors have had four wins and a bye in their last five matches and sit six points behind the Chiefs in the New Zealand conference, though with a game in hand.

WE THINK: This game has 'Match of the Round' written all over it. The defensive strengths shown by both sides last weekend make the clash all the more intriguing. With both forward packs hitting top form it could very well come down to which first-five has more influence on the game.

With Dan Carter having a solid campaign so far in 2013, the pressure will certainly be on Aaron Cruden to step up once more and show the form that got his side over the line in last year's Investec Super Rugby semi-final.

Expect a torrid battle regardless, and if the rains stays away as forecasted it should be an entertaining showcase of running rugby. Forget the banter, it's time to show up on game day in what is a crucial game for both sides. Crusaders by 2