Saders can shift pressure

The Crusaders can move to the top of the New Zealand conference and pile the pressure on the Chiefs if they beat the Hurricanes in Christchurch on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

As it stands, the Crusaders are just one point behind the Kiwi conference-leading Chiefs, and will have an opportunity to leapfrog the Hamilton-based side in the first game on Saturday.

The Saders are coming off a 85-26 hammering of the Rebels and have been boosted by the return of Kieran Read and Wyatt Crockett, while the Canes have been forced to reshuffle their midfield due to an injury to Matt Proctor.

There’s no doubt the Crusaders will come into the clash as favourites, but they’ll also be coming up against a supremely motivated Hurricanes side.

In an apt illustration of just how fiercely contested the New Zealand conference has been, the Hurricanes are just three points behind the Chiefs, and so they’ll know there’s even an opportunity for them to suddenly jump to the top of the conference.

It’s no surprise, then, that there’s a bit of a ‘finals’ feel to this clash ahead of the playoffs, as will be the case when the Chiefs take on the Highlanders in the second game on Saturday.

There’s no doubt the clash in Christchurch should be a highly entertaining one, with both sides in the top five this season in terms of tries scored (Crusaders 64, Hurricanes 56) and clean breaks (Crusaders 229, Hurricanes 184).

However, at home, the Crusaders should be backed to come out on top and shift the pressure on to the Chiefs, who will then need to do the business in Dunedin if they hope to reclaim top spot in the New Zealand conference.

Overall: Crusaders 17, Hurricanes 9, Draw 3
In Christchurch: Crusaders 11, Hurricanes 4, Draw 1

– The Hurricanes have won five of their last seven games against the Crusaders, although none of their wins have come by more than the value of a converted try.
– After a 35-18 win in their last game against the Hurricanes, the Crusaders will be hunting for back-to-back wins against them for the first time since 2012.
– The Crusaders have now conceded in excess of 20 points in each of their last three Super Rugby games. The last time they went on a longer such streak was from 2010 to 2011 when they conceded over 20 points in six straight games.
– The Crusaders have won six straight home games, their longest streak since a run of 11 between 2012 and 2013, although they’ve won only three of their last six home games against the Hurricanes.
– The Hurricanes are on the cusp of a five-game winning streak for the second time this season, and they’ve won four of their last five fixtures away from home.
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Crusaders Richie Mo’Unga (164) Johnny McNicholl (7) Johnny McNicholl (782) Matt Todd (139)
Hurricanes Beauden Barrett (169 Julian Savea (6), Beauden Barrett (6) Julian Savea (708) Ardie Savea (157)

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jimmy Tupou, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Kieron Fonotia.

Hurricanes – 15 James Marshall, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Willis Halaholo, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Juilan Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara, 8 Victor Vito, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Brad Shields, 5 Michael Fatialofa, 4 Vaea Fifita, 3 Chris Eves, 2 Dane Coles (c), 1 Reg Goodes.
Subs: 16 Ricky Riccitelli, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Mark Abbott, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Wes Goosen, 23 Jason Woodward.

Referee: Ben O’Keefe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

Photo: Hagen Hopkings/Getty Images

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Craig Lewis