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Preview: Crusaders v Chiefs

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Sportal.co.nz     04 Jul 2013     Getty Images

It promises to be an absolute scorcher of a New Zealand conference match on Friday.

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 21; Crusaders 14, Chiefs 7
LAST TIME: Round 16, 2013 - Chiefs 28-19 Crusaders at Waikato Stadium

MISSING IN ACTION:
The Crusaders will be without Robbie Fruean after the centre opted to withdraw from the side to undergo heart surgery.

Prop Owen Franks returns from an infected elbow, and his All Black colleagues Luke Romano, captain Kieran Read and Wyatt Crockett all feature in the starting team.

For the Chiefs, coach Dave Rennie has had an injury free week. However, four changes see Sam Cane elevated into the No.7 jersey at the expense of Tanerau Latimer, while Ben Tameifuna gets a second start against the Crusaders this year at the expense of Ben Afeaki.

Centre Tim Nanai Williams will have to celebrate his 50th match from the bench after he was dropped in favour of Charlie Ngatai.

FORM:
The Crusaders are knocking on the doors of finals rugby and are doing so in a relatively clinical fashion. The Canterbury franchise was victorious in a one-sided southern derby, with their clinical 40-12 win over the Highlanders displaying a lethal edge that comes with desperation.

Their form has only been shaded by that of their opponents on Friday night. A brutal final 30 minutes gave the Chiefs a resounding 34-22 win over a spirited Hurricanes side who had played some of their best rugby all season.

Despite that, it was the hosts who secured a bonus point win and sees them 10 points clear in the New Zealand conference.

WE THINK: It should be an absolute blockbuster on Friday night in Christchurch and for the second time this season this clash should be the match of the round.

On display will be two dynamic styles of rugby highlighted by two ball-running first five-eighths in Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden for the Crusaders and Chiefs respectively.

But it's perhaps in the forwards where this battle will be won come Friday night. Intriguing matchups will see the likes of Kieran Read come up against the promising Matt Vant Leven while the hooking battle between the Crusaders' most capped player, Corey Flynn, and Hika Elliott.

If the Crusaders win it will be an upset, but it won't be the first time they've tipped over the Chiefs after an international window. The Crusaders notched a 28-21 win at Waikato Stadium in Round 17, 2012 in what was the first of two straight losses for the Chiefs. They would go on to win the title in front of their home crowd a few weeks later.

It should be a gritty battle with a lot riding on the match for both teams at opposite ends of playoff contention. The Crusaders should be in for a tough night, but if they're able to keep it close going into the second half they could very well get the job done thanks to their heavily experienced forward pack. Crusaders by 6