Nemani Nadolo and Waisake Naholo will collide when the Crusaders host the Highlanders on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Fijian wings have both impressed for their New Zealand franchises this season.
The 27-year-old Nadolo missed the Crusaders' first three matches after being eased back into the set-up following a stint in Japan, but has still made the joint second-most clean breaks (11) in the tournament, including three against the Sharks last weekend, and scored two tries. The 23-year-old Naholo has also made 11 clean breaks, beaten the fourth-most defenders (23), and scored four tries. Cheslin Kolbe certainly won't have forgotten how he was steam-rolled by Naholo in Dunedin two weeks ago.
The Crusaders and Highlanders are two teams that like to go wide when the opportunity presents itself, so Nadolo and Naholo should feature prominently with ball in hand on Saturday.
They will also test each other's defence. Nadolo has made eight tackles and missed three so far this season (73% success rate), with Naholo making 25 and missing six (81%).
The Crusaders will go into Saturday's game as favourites having beaten the Highlanders 26-20 in their round-two clash in Dunedin and won their last three home fixtures against them by big margins (51-18 in 2012, 24-8 in 2013 and 34-8 in 2014). Kieran Read's men seem to have hit top form after a typically slow start to the season, and their 52-10 drubbing of the Sharks sounded a big warning to the rest of the field.
The Saders have made three changes to their starting XV, with Joe Moody and Owen Franks coming into the front row and Jimmy Tupou into the second row. Richie McCaw remains on the bench and is joined there by Dan Carter, who returns to the squad following the birth of his second child.
The Highlanders, who had a bye last weekend, have stuck with the side that beat the Stormers 39-21 in round seven.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 19, Highlanders 8
In Christchurch: Crusaders 11, Highlanders 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders have won their last six matches against the Highlanders; another victory would equal their best run of seven wins on the bounce against the Dunedin-based side.
– The Highlanders have failed to reach double figures in their last two away games against the Crusaders.
– The Highlanders are playing away from home for just the second time this season.
– The Crusaders boast the best scrum success rate (95%) in the competition.
– The Highlanders’ lineout success rate (91%) is the second-best this year behind the Brumbies (92%).
– Eleven of the Crusaders’ 25 tries this year have been in the third quarter of matches, no other side has scored more than seven in the same period. Only the Waratahs (six) have conceded more five-pointers in the same time frame than the Highlanders (five).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Crusaders||Dan Carter (60)||Andy Ellis (3)||Israel Dagg (456)||Matt Todd (65)|
|Highlanders||Lima Sopoaga (49)||Waisake Naholo (4)||Waisake Naholo (468)||Elliot Dixon (74)|
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 David Havili, 13 Keiron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Jimmy Tupou, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Lualala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Dan Carter, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Subs: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Pingi Tala’apitaga, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Jason Emery.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images