Another influential performance from Dan Carter against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday will help keep the Crusaders in the play-off hunt, says SIMON BORCHARDT.
An injury to Colin Slade saw Carter start at flyhalf for just the third time this season against the Hurricanes in Nelson last weekend. The 102-Test veteran, who had been used mostly at inside centre and struggled for form, produced a masterclass to guide an understrength Crusaders to a surprise 35-18 bonus-point win.
Carter's big left boot helped his side win the territorial battle, he was successful with six out of seven kicks at goal and he marshalled the backline well.
All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will be hoping it's a sign of things to come from the 33-year-old, who would be aiming to peak at the World Cup when it really matters.
With Slade still sidelined, Carter has been given another opportunity to impress in his preferred position in another must-win match for the Crusaders.
The Saders were being written off a couple weeks ago, but if they can bag five more log points against the 14th-placed Blues, they could set up a showdown with the Brumbies in Canberra for the last remaining play-off spot. And coach Todd Blackadder was correct when he said his team could go on to win the tournament if they did manage to sneak into the play-offs.
The Crusaders have made three changes to their pack for this match, with loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett, hooker Codie Taylor and No 5 lock Dominic Bird coming into the starting XV. Prop Joe Moody, lock Sam Whitelock, No 8 Kieran Read, flyhalf Slade, midfielder Ryan Crotty and fullback Israel Dagg are all still out injured.
The Blues have been decimated by injury, with 12 players out, including Charlie Faumuina, Tony Woodcock and Charles Piutau. They have also lost in-form loose forwards Akira Ioane and Blake Gibson to the New Zealand U20s.
Coach John Kirwan has been forced to turn to the youngsters in his squad for Saturday's match. Lock Will Lloyd, flanker Joe Edwards and fullback Matt Vaega will make their first Vodacom Super Rugby starts, while the 121kg, 20-year-old No 8 Airi Hunt will make his debut in the absence of Jerome Kaino and Steven Luatua. Manawatu's Hamish Northcott will start at outside centre.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 15, Blues 11
In Auckland: Blues 8, Crusaders 5
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders accounted for the Blues’ heaviest ever defeat when they beat the Auckland-based side 59-12 in 2012.
– Six of the last eight, and nine of the last 12, contests between the sides have been won by the men from Christchurch.
– The Blues won two of their four matches in May, but you’d need to go back to June last year to piece together their previous two victories.
– The Blues are aiming to win three home games in a row against the Crusaders, a feat they have managed just once in a run that included a home final win against their New Zealand rivals (2001-2003).
– Two of the last three meetings between these sides have seen the side leading at half-time go on to lose the game.
– The Crusaders lead the way for tries scored this year (48), while the Blues sit second last (27).
– The Blues have scored the fewest opening quarter tries (two) while the Crusaders have scored the second most in the same timeframe (12).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (96)||George Moala, Jerome Kaino, Melani Nanai (3)||Lolagi Visinia (853)||Brendan O'Connor (121)|
|Crusaders||Colin Slade (100)||Nemani Nadolo (6)||Nemani Nadolo (818)||Matt Todd (131)|
Blues – 15 Matt Vaega, 14 Ben Lam, 13 Hamish Northcott, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nani, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Airi Hunt, 7 Brendon O'Connor, 6 Joe Edwards, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Will Lloyd, 3 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Keven Mealamu, 17 Nic Mayhew, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Chris Vui, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Simon Hickey, 23 Matt McGahan.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Matt Todd, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Kieron Fonotia.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand), Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images