Preview: Chiefs vs Crusaders

The defending champions will be eager to step up a gear against a team playing with more confidence.

The Chiefs are a curious beast this season. Sure, they've produced the now-customary brand of swashbuckling flair in spades, but the results have been a little underwhelming. A six-point win over the Rebels at home is nothing to shout about when you're the two-time defending champions, and it took a pair of thrilling comebacks to snatch a share of spoils from the jaws of defeat on South African soil.

You'd imagine it's only a matter of time before they find the key, crack it open and unleash the true extent of their attacking prowess.

The Chiefs can strike from anywhere and no other side does counter-attacking better. They top the charts for average metres made (511) and offloads completed (14). But although the Chiefs have scored eight tries from their own 22, they've conceded the same number from the corresponding field position.

Interestingly, the Chiefs have the most penalised set piece in the tournament thus far, infringing 21 times in the scrum and nine times at the lineout and that's 14 more than the visitors, and an advantage the Crusaders must press home to gain a crucial first-phase platform. Yet having said that, the hosts' lineout is also the most reliable in Super Rugby, boasting a 92% success rate, while the Crusaders' sits dead-last on 74%.

This game marks the first in a crucial string of fixtures for the Crusaders and their play-off aspirations. After Saturday, they must face the Brumbies (home), Reds (away) and Sharks (home) in quick succession and a win over the Chiefs would set them up perfectly.

The man most likely to be scoring tries for the Christchurch outfit is Nemani Nadolo. The Fijian is similar in speed and bodily dimensions to Jonah Lomu and his battle with the feisty Tim Nanai-Williams out wide will be a corker.

The history books show that this is traditionally a tight contest, with two back rows in particular keen to size each other up and slug it out for dominance at the breakdown. In this case, as well as Liam Messam and Kieran Read doing battle, heir apparent to Richie McCaw's openside throne Sam Cane and Matt Todd are likely to go head-to-head at some stage.

Chiefs – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Michael Fitzgerald, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Jamie Mackintosh, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Matt Symons, 20 Sam Cane, 21 Augustine Pulu, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Jordan Payne.

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Tom Taylor, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Tyler Bleyendaal, 23 Adam Whitelock.

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Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

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Simon Borchardt