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Chiefs 19, Crusaders 26

The Crusaders were the Chiefs’ first-ever opponents in Super Rugby, with current Chiefs’ head coach Ian Foster kicking a late penalty goal to secure a 27-26 win over a Crusaders’ team which included the present Crusaders’ head coach Todd Blackadder.

Len Kaplan – Rugby365

Two of the assistant coaches, Craig Stevenson of the Chiefs and Daryl Gibson of the Crusaders, also played in that Super 12 game in 1996.

The Crusaders come to North Island having won 10 Super games against the Chiefs, who have won four. And the Crusaders have won four out of seven clashes in Hamilton, indicating that they will not be intimidated by the Waikato Stadium crowd.

For the visitors, Kahn Fotuali’i starts at scrumhalf in place of Andy Ellis (head knock last week) and at lock Isaac Ross has been selected ahead of Sam Whitelock.

For the home team, Craig Clarke replaces Culum Retallick at lock and at hooker Aled de Malmanche plays in place of Hika Elliot (hamstring strain).

Last Friday’s surprise defeat to the Reds broke a six-game unbeaten run by the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium, and they will be hard-pressed to prevent two losses in a row. This Crusaders team has stumbled only once this season – also against the Reds.

Foster said during the week: “We’re looking forward to our first New Zealand derby game, as they are always intense and competitive. I expect a real lift in our intensity, back to the levels we achieved in the first couple of weeks. Certainly there were some individuals last week that didn’t get to the level they would have wanted.”

The strongest weapon in the home team’s arsenal is their back three, with Sitiveni Sivivatu having scored 39 Super tries, Lelia Masaga 23 tries and skipper Malili Muliaina 28 tries. That’s a phenomenal record from one unit in a team. The Crusaders’ back three, comprising Jared Payne, Sean Maitland and Zac Guildford, is highly talented but relatively inexperienced.

That match-up will be fascinating, as will be that between flyhalves Stephen Donald and Daniel Carter. The battle among loose forwards Colin Bourke, Tanerau Latimer and Liam Messam of the Chiefs and Kieran Read, George Whitelock and Richie McCaw of the Crusaders, will be worth watching too.

Best of all may be the contest at outside centre between the Chiefs’ All Black Richard Kahui and the Crusaders’ former New Zealand U19 captain and IRB U19 player of the year Robbie Fruean, who is fast developing into one of the bolters of the competition.

In his column on the Crusaders’ website, Blackadder describes Muliaina, Sivivatu and Masaga as a “magic back three…these players all have the ‘X-factor’ and are very exciting ball runners”.

He added: “The Chiefs were finalists in this competition last year and have a lot of experience. They hit a bit of turbulence in that loss to the Reds but who hasn’t in this competition?

“You can’t afford to take the foot off the accelerator. It’s a short turnaround for us so we have to get everything exactly right.

“It’s no secret that we will be trying to get on top up front and putting pressure on their dangerous backs with our defence. They will be tough to beat, especially in Hamilton,” the Crusaders head coach added.

Neither team has a tight five likely to dominate, but with two strong defensive teams, two superb loose trios and exciting attacking backs on either side, this game could be a classic encounter.

Super 14 results:
2009: Crusaders won 19-13 (Christchurch)
2008: Chiefs won 18-5 (Hamilton)
2007: Chiefs won 30-24 (Christchurch)
2006: Crusaders won 25-19 (Hamilton)

rugby365.com Prediction: The loss of Andy Ellis is a setback for the visitors but these are two evenly matched teams and it may come down to how well the Chiefs’ back three perform with ball in hand or how tightly they can be contained, plus the goal-kicking of Donald and Carter. McCaw will have gone some way to ridding himself of the rust from his sabbatical and Carter remains the biggest X-factor in the clash. In what most expect to be a closely-contested encounter, these two players may just swing it, and we’ll go with a narrow Crusaders victory – by five or seven points perhaps.

Teams:

Chiefs: 15 Mils Muliaina (captain), 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Sitiveni Sivivatu, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brendon Leonard, 8 Colin Bourke, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Romana Graham, 4 Craig Clarke, 3 Nathan White, 2 Aled de Malmanche, 1 Sona Taumalolo.
Replacements: 16 Vern Kamo, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Culum Retallick, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Junior Poluleuligaga, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Dwayne Sweeney.

Crusaders: 15 Jared Payne, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Kahn Fotuali’i, 8 Kieran Read, 7 George Whitelock, 6 Richie McCaw (captain), 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Adam Whitelock, 22 Colin Slade.

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Chris Pollock (New Zealand), Matthew Stanish (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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