Chiefs wing James Lowe will look to continue his good run of form against the Crusaders at Waikato Stadium on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The 22-year-old has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, making more running metres than any other player in the tournament (222, 111 in each game) and is one of just four players to have broken the line four times.
He scored a try in the 23-18 win against the Blues in Albany, while playing on the left wing, before shifting to fullback for the 19-17 victory against the Brumbies in Hamilton. On both occasions, he played the full 80 minutes.
Lowe, who made his Vodacom Super Rugby at the start of last season, was rewarded for his recent form on Tuesday when the Chiefs announced that he would be staying with the franchise for another two years.
'James is a big, quick and powerful winger with a massive left foot,' said coach Dave Rennie. 'His ability to beat defenders and play anywhere in the back three is a huge asset.'
The Chiefs won their two opening matches by narrow margins, with Aaron Cruden slotting a last-minute penalty against the Brumbies.
Sam Cane and Sonny Bill Williams were ruled out just before kick-off last week, but have returned for round three, with the Chiefs making 11 changes to their starting XV, including four positional.
Having lost all three of their pre-season games and suffered a shock 20-10 opening-round defeat to the Rebels in Christchurch, the Crusaders finally got going with a 26-20 win against the Highlanders last Saturday.
The Saders will once again be without All Blacks flyhalf Dan Carter, who is still recovering from a leg injury sustained in round one, while Tom Taylor starts at fullback ahead of Israel Dagg, who has a quad strain. Fijian wing Nemani Nadolo has returned from playing for the NEC Green Rockets in Japan, but will be eased back into the New Zealand rugby system via the Crusaders Knights development team.
Last year's match in Hamilton between these two teams was a tight affair – with the Crusaders winning 18-17 – and that could be the case again on Saturday.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Chiefs 9, Crusaders 16
In Hamilton: Chiefs 6, Crusaders 8
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won four of the last six contests between the sides, despite losing 16 of their 25 meetings overall.
– Fifteen of those 25 matches have seen the losing team end the game within the losing bonus-point scope.
– The Crusaders have won all 18 of their scrum feeds so far.
– The Chiefs have managed the most clean breaks this season (20), more than twice as many as the 2014 finalists (nine).
– James Lowe has made a competition-high 222m over the gainline so far, with the Crusaders’ Robbie Fruean third on this list with 173m.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Chiefs||Aaron Cruden (14)||Ben Funnell, Johnny McNicholl, Scott Barrett (1)||James Lowe (222)||Pauliasi Manu (17)|
|Crusaders||Colin Slade (16)||Bryce Heem, Charlie Ngatai, James Lowe (1)||Robbie Fruean (173)||Matt Todd (32)|
Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Bryce Heem, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Liam Messam (c), 7 Sam Cane, 6 Mike Fitzgerald, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Matt Symons, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Mitchell Graham, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Sean Polwart, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Damian McKenzie, 23 Seta Tamanivalu.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Alex Hodgman, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Nathaniel Apa, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images