The Crusaders will be taking on the Highlanders in Christchurch on Friday in the first quarter final.
They are the favourites to retain their title and playing all their playoff matches at home makes them even more dangerous.
Facing the Highlanders is a tricky one for the Crusaders. They Highlanders firstly sneaked into the playoffs but throughout the season they did not perform with any consistency which to be fare has been a problem with many teams this year.
The champions will start the game with their All Black front row Taylor, Franks and Moody.
In the backs Ennor will make way for Bridge who will start the game.
On the bench we see Drummond and Hunt returning who will certainly make an impact in the second half.
The Highlanders does have a smaller base of players than the likes of the Crusaders but when they are playing well they have the ability to cause upsets and do not count one out for this weekend.
They have their captain Ben Smith back this week and this will be a major boost to the team going into this match.
The problem for the Highlanders are in the set pieces and they will have to put a massive effort in to counter the strong Crusaders pack who will target this aspect of the game.
With referees giving easy penalties away at scrum time, it may be the one area where the Highlanders will struggle.
Both sides have some brilliant playmakers which can rip through defences but we expect a test like approach from both sides playing a tactical game to put pressure on and punish mistakes.
What makes this Crusaders side so good has been the fact that they can change their game to what is happening on the field. They do not panic and can play conservative when needed and speed up the game if it presents itself.
Defence will be as important for the Highlanders as attack and they will have to stay in touch with the champions from the first minute of the game and not let them get away on the scoreboard.
New Zealand derbies is usually a close affair but the Crusaders have always been they exception and with so much experience they would have identified the Highlanders weak points.
They Highlanders have pretty much a full strength side coming into the match which is great for them after a season were the struggle to field the same side twice in a row this season.
Some Interesting Facts (OPTA)
- The Crusaders have won five of their last six completed Super Rugby matches against the Highlanders (L1), coming from behind at half-time to win two of those matches.
- The Highlanders have lost six of their last seven Super Rugby matches on the road (W1), conceding an average of 33 points per-game in those defeats.
- The Crusaders have won all 21 of their Super Rugby finals matches on home soil, only three times in that span has the full-time margin been in the single figures.
- The Highlanders have lost their last three Super Rugby finals appearances, after winning four consecutive finals matches prior to that span.
- The Crusaders have won 12 of their last 13 completed New Zealand derbies in Super Rugby (L1), but lost in their most recent such fixture to the Chiefs (27-40).
- The Highlanders are undefeated in their last two Super Rugby matches against fellow New Zealand teams (W1, D1), they haven’t had a longer run of such matches without losing since a three-game stretch through March-May 2016 (W3).
- The Crusaders have averaged 510 metres per-game in Super Rugby 2019, the most in the competition and 78 more than the Highlanders (432).
- The Highlanders have conceded just 7.1 penalties per game on average in Super Rugby this year, fewer than any other side.
- The Crusaders’ Sevu Reece has made 34 clean breaks in Super Rugby this year, six more than any other player, while he’s also scored the most tries in 2019 (13).
- Aaron Smith (Highlanders) has provided 11 try assists in Super Rugby 2019, the most of any player in the finals series and the second most overall (Quade Cooper – 12).
Prediction: Will be supporting the underdog in this match but the Crusaders may just have too much for the Highlanders, Crusaders by 15
Crusaders: David Havili, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Replacements: Andrew Makalio, Tim Perry, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor.
Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson, Tei Walden, Sio Tomkinson, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), James Lentjes, Liam Squire, Tom Franklin, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: Ash Dixon, Ayden Johnstone, Siate Tokolahi, Josh Dickson, Shannon Frizell, Kayne Hammington, Marty Banks, Elliot Dixon