Preview: Crusaders v Hurricanes

Getty Images     17 Jun 2011     Getty Images

VENUE & TIME: Westpac Stadium, Wellington, Saturday June 18 @ 1935 (home match for Crusaders)

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 20; Crusaders 13 wins, Hurricanes 4, drawn 2, abandoned 1.

LAST TIME: February 26, 2011 (Wellington, round two) – Match abandoned due to Christchurch earthquake; treated as 0-0 draw.

WALKING WOUNDED: Todd Blackadder was forced to make one change, replacing Sonny Bill Williams (bruised hip) with Ryan Crotty and promoting Tu Umaga-Marshall to the bench. Otherwise he has named team that beat the Blues a week ago. The Hurricanes have named an unchanged run-on XV, with three optional changes on the bench.

Round 13: Lost to Cheetahs 20-33 (a)
Round 14: Beat Chiefs 25-19 (h)
Round 15: Lost to Reds 16-17 (a)
Round 16: Bye
Round 17: Beat Blues 23-16 (h)

Round 13: Lost to Highlanders 6-13 (a)
Round 14: Bye
Round 15: Beat Force 34-28 (h)
Round 16: Beat Lions 38-27 (h)
Round 17: Drew with Chiefs 18-18 (a)

The Crusaders had to work hard to overcome the Blues in Timaru last week, and needed to fashion chances and accept them neatly to get home. That victory put them at the head of the New Zealand conference for the first time in several weeks and secured a playoff spot; now what needs to be determined is whether they can pressure the Stormers for second and a weekend off. The Hurricanes drew with the Chiefs last week after looking ordinary in the first half and then good for the third quarter, but in the end neither team could find a way to manufacture a winning score late in the game. The Hurricanes may not be finishing with a bang, but neither are they going out with a whimper and must present a dangerous challenge to the Crusaders this week.

WHO'S HOT: Owen Franks has enjoyed a huge season and must be right in line for the New Zealand Super rugby player of the year. His scrummaging is strong and he is dynamic around the field, both with ball in hand and with his punishing defence. Kieran Read has confirmed his standing as an automatic selection in the test side with a long string of high-class performances. Zac Guildford got and handled a couple of scoring chances well last week, while his general play was aggressive and skilful. James Broadhurst has made big strides in 2011 and is the Hurricanes best tight forward, with a rugged approach to his core tasks and an improving impact in general play. Aaron Cruden has been the pick of the backline in recent weeks with a more assertive approach, good skills and some very accurate goal-kicking. He has generated plenty of scoring chances and many of the team's best moments. Hosea Gear is also in good touch and now, with a bit of usable ball, is back in try-scoring mode. His general play has been sound for most of the season and his strong finishing is one of the team's most dangerous weapons.

WE THINK: Despite this game being played in Wellington and all the hoopla surrounding the 'away' team, we think the Crusaders will find ways to win, although they will be very wary of the threat posed by the 'Canes. It will be tough and tense, and we think the margin may be only one score – about seven points at the most.

Crusaders: 1. Ben Franks, 2. Corey Flynn, 3. Owen Franks, 4. Brad Thorn, 5. Sam Whitelock, 6. George Whitelock, 7. Matt Todd, 8. Kieran Read (capt), 9. Andy Ellis, 10. Daniel Carter, 11. Zac Guildford, 12. Ryan Crotty, 13. Robbie Fruean, 14. Brent Ward, 15. Tom Marshall.

Replacements: 16. Quentin MacDonald, 17. Wyatt Crockett, 18. Luke Romano, 19. Jonathan Poff, 20. Willi Heinz, 21. Matt Berquist, 22. Tu Umaga-Marshall.

Hurricanes: 1. John Schwalger, 2. Andrew Hore (capt), 3. Neemia Tialata, 4. Jeremy Thrush, 5. James Broadhurst, 6. Faifili Levave, 7. Jack Lam, 8. Victor Vito, 9. Piri Weepu, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Hosea Gear, 12. Ma'a Nonu, 13. Alipate Leiua, 14. Julian Savea, 15. Cory Jane.

Replacements: 16. Laurence Corlett, 17. Anthony Perenise, 18. Jason Eaton, 19. Mark Reddish, 20. Chris Eaton, 21. Jayden Hayward, 22. Richard Buckman.

REFEREE: Steve Walsh