Colin Slade can get the Crusaders backline going against the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The seven-time champions lived up to their reputation of being slow starters when they suffered a shock 20-10 loss to the Rebels in Christchurch last weekend, following three pre-season defeats.
Richie McCaw's men will be desperate to bounce back with a win against a Highlanders team that will still be a bit rusty having had a bye in round one.
Injury-prone Crusaders flyhalf Dan Carter has failed to recover from a leg injury that saw him leave the field in the 73rd minute of last Friday's match, which sees Slade shift from fullback to the No 10 jersey.
Carter was a shadow of his former self against the Rebels, and Slade might just be the man to control the game for the Crusaders and get their backline going.
In other changes to the starting lineup, Israel Dagg returns to fullback, Ryan Crotty replaces Tom Taylor at inside centre, lock Scott Barrett earns his first Super Rugby start ahead of Dominic Bird, and loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett replaces Joe Moody.
Meanwhile, 31-year-old South African tighthead prop Ross Geldenhuys will make his Vodacom Super Rugby debut for the Highlanders, having moved to New Zealand last year and played for Tasman in the NPC.
Seven players could make their debuts for the Highlanders, with loosehead prop Josh Hohneck and wing Waisake Naholo also starting, and Ash Dixon, Mark Reddish, Dan Pryor and Marty Banks on the bench.
The Highlanders will have co-captains again this season, with fullback Ben Smith and No 8 Nasi Manu calling the shots.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 18, Highlanders 8
In Dunedin: Crusaders 7, Highlanders 5
STATS & FACTS
– The Crusaders are on a five-match winning streak against the Highlanders.
– Matt Todd, who ranked ninth for successful tackles in 2014 (161 out of 174), topped the tackle charts in round one. He completed all 23 of his attempted hits.
– The Crusaders scored just 10 points in losing to the Rebels last weekend, which ranks joint-second in their lowest ever point-hauls in home matches.
– The Highlanders have lost three home games since May 2013 (won eight), but two of these defeats have been at the hands of the Crusaders.
– The Highlanders’ last eight results against fellow New Zealand sides have alternated between wins and losses with the Highlanders not losing consecutive games against teams in their own conference since April 2013.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Crusaders||Ben Funnell & Dan Carter (5)||Ben Funnell (1)||Robbie Fruean (105)||Matt Todd (23)|
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 John Hardie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Josh Hohneck.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Kane Hames, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Jason Emery, 23 Marty Banks.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Robbie Fruean, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Johnny McNicholl, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Codie Taylor, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images