Rebels face Crusaders backlash

The Crusaders must beat the Rebels in Christchurch on Saturday to keep their New Zealand conference title hopes alive. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.

Coach Todd Blackadder's charges suffered a setback last weekend when they lost 23-13 to the Chiefs in Suva. They will be eager to bounce back from that defeat and avenge the 20-10 loss they suffered to the Rebels in Christchurch in the opening round of last year's competition.

With the conference-leading Chiefs expected to beat the Reds this weekend, the Crusaders (who trail them by a point) must beat the Rebels to stay within striking distance going into the final round next weekend. A win would also keep them ahead of the third-placed Hurricanes.

The Saders will be aiming to improve their ball security and defence. Against the Chiefs last weekend they missed 15 tackles, conceded 18 turnovers and made 12 handling errors.

Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made seven changes to the run-on team that lost 57-31 to the Stormers, with prop Toby Smith, locks Sam Jeffries and Culum Retallick, No 8 Adam Thomson, scrumhalf Nic Stirzaker, centre Sione Tuipulotu and fullback Mike Harris all earning starting berths.

Blackadder has made four rotational changes, with loosehead prop Alex Hodgman coming in for Wyatt Crockett, Timmy Tupou starting at No 8 ahead of the rested Kieran Read, Ryan Crotty back at outside centre in place of Kieron Fonotia and Johnny McNicholl replacing Jone Macilai on the right wing.

Overall: Crusaders 2, Rebels 2
In Christchurch: Crusaders 1, Rebels 1

– The Rebels won the last encounter between the sides and will be aiming to become the first non-New Zealand team to record back-to-back away wins against the Crusaders, and just the third team overall after the Chiefs (2014-16: three wins) and the Blues (1996-98: two wins). 
– The Crusaders have won their last five matches at home since losing their opening home game of the season; each of those five victories have come by 15-plus points. 
– The Crusaders’ run of five consecutive home victories is their longest streak since winning their last two home games of 2012 before a clean sweep of home victories in 2013 (11 wins in total). 
– The Rebels’ victory away to the Crusaders stands as their only win on New Zealand soil, losing their remaining 11 games away to New Zealand sides in Super Rugby. 
– In contrast, that win for the Rebels marks the Crusaders’ only defeat at home to an Australian side since February 2004, winning 25 and drawing one of 27 matches when hosting teams from across the Tasman since then. 
– The Rebels have scored 12 tries after holding possession for seven phases or more this season, more than any other team and eight more than the Crusaders. 
– Kieran Read has assisted five tries so far this season; while it’s only the 15th most of any player, it’s more than any other forward in the competition. 
– The Rebels enjoy the greatest ruck success (96%) of any team in the competition, losing a league-low 3.3 rucks per game. 
– Sean McMahon has beaten 43 defenders so far this season, the most of any forward in the competition and 27 more than the best Crusaders forward.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Crusaders Richie Mo'unga (150) Jone Macilai (6) Johnny McNicholl (695) Matt Todd (123)
Rebels Jack Debreczeni (150) Reece Hodge (8) Reece Hodge (509) Sean McMahon (122)

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Alex Hodgman.

Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alalaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samo, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt,  23 Kieran Fonotia.

Rebels – 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Colby Fainga'a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith.

Subs: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Jonah Placid.

Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: TBC, Angus Mabey (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)

Photo: Getty Images

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Mariette Adams