Who will win the individual battles - Hurricanes versus Crusaders
James Mortimer 06 Mar 2013 Getty Images
Andre Taylor versus Israel Dagg
The incumbent All Blacks fullback and on form potentially the best custodian in the game against a Taylor who hasn't ignited yet, but when he does he always sparks conversations towards Test selection.
Both number fifteens have had a quiet start, but have the same manic running style that can cause chaos from the back.
However Dagg hasn't looked as confident, but will be restored to fullback this week, while Andre was never going to benefit in the Canes first tryless showing in a year in Brisbane.
Conrad Smith versus Robbie Fruean
It could have been the master versus the heir apparent, but Fruean is challenged by the likes of Ranger and Kahui as the premier backup thirteen. Smith thrived last year as captain but will have to prove his mental powers in guiding his team to a potential maiden win for the season.
One could easily argue that Smith has more guile that his Crusaders opposite, but if the big red and black centre can run with the right amount of power, even the defensive genuis of the Canes captain would be hard pressed to stop one of the uncut diamonds of Kiwi midfield stocks.
Beauden Barrett versus Dan Carter
This is a clash between the King and one who would claim his throne, not the immediate understudy, that honour fulls to a Chiefs number ten, but Barrett has the class and recent callup to prove that he could be a future and regular All Black.
Carter was relatively quiet last week, but still kicked all of his team's points, but he will want to spark early to get his confidence going, while Barrett was one of the visitors best with backline organisation in a losing effort in Brisbane last week.
In theory this is, based on last All Blacks squad selection, number ten 1 versus number ten 3 in the standing of first five-eighths in New Zealand.
Victor Vito versus Kieran Read
Read, captain of the Crusaders, will likely wear the armband of his country against France, and not only did he finish 2012 as pretty much the best eightman, but he was far and away the best of the red and blacks against the Blues rampage, and no doubt he will continue his all or nothing approach to the game.
Vito showed his usual glimpses of class, but an underrated Reds pack didn't give the Hurricanes pack or back row much chance to show their worth.
Some believe big Victor is better suited at blindside with his more flamboyant skills, but if there was a pecking order of number eights, it would likely be these two (considering Messam is now the AB's number six) who would represent the best men off the back of the scrum in New Zealand.
Read is typically everywhere, but Vito does things outside the normal playbook - which style will come out on top?
Dane Coles versus Corey Flynn
The young Coles is quite possibly the next long term hooker for the All Blacks, considering the fact that many of the top dogs are considered elder statesman when it comes to the grizzled rake.
Flynn is a handy backup for the Test coaches, but by his own admission isn't the future, but knows enough about the nuances of the position to give Coles a honest test of where he is at early.
Normally hookers don't mature early, but Coles will relish the chance to go head to head against a Crusaders stalwart and a player who has worn the Black jersey against international scrums.
Ben Franks versus Owen Franks
It is rare that two All Blacks props come up against each other with so much history, especially when they likely spent countless years shoulder to shoulder, crouched in the Franks backyard, causing divets that would have often caused Mrs Franks to slip over on her way to the washing line (or should we say Mr Franks?).
Younger brother Owen is considered a starting All Black, while Ben is the ultimate utility, but to leave the experience stacked Crusaders pack for Wellington was to ensure he would get maximum game time, starting rather than being able to cover either side of the scrum.
Some might argue that technically Owen is the better man at the scrum, while a bit more wild around the loose, but brother Ben is one of those players whose all-round game is highly valued by Super and Test Rugby coaches alike.
None of the four locks on display in this match are considered driving scrummaging second row forwards, so much will come down to the smarts and mechanical application of the scrum by the two All Blacks forwards. There will be a fierce grin or two in this battle.
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