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Crusaders expecting tight contest with neighbours

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Lynn McConnell     30 May 2017     Getty Images

Both sides were on winning streaks with the Crusaders' 13 in a run matching the effort of the 2002 side which won the Investec Super Rugby title.

Assistant coach Leon MacDonald said there were a lot of similarities between the 2002 team he was part of and the 2017 version, both of which have won 13 consecutive games.

They were both well led, and they shared a group of players who had wanted to play for each other.

The side, which also included coach Scott Robertson, was made up of players who would be friends for life and the 2017 side was creating its own legacy, he said.

"They'll remember it in time. At the moment they're going week by week and getting about their work but what they are doing is pretty special and hopefully it can continue.

"This weekend is vital for us. The old foe from down south, we love them but we hate them on the field and they do with us. We enjoy the contest and it is going to be tough.

"They've probably got a wee bit of an edge on us preview-wise because they've been following us around and playing teams we've played so they get to watch us nearly each week so they'll have a pretty good idea of how we play the game.

"Knowing Brownie [coach Tony Brown] and his crew there'll be lots of special lineout plays and moves to look forward to," he said.

The Highlanders would be happy with having flown under the radar for much of the season while amassing nine consecutive wins and they would be excited about the Crusaders' challenge.

MacDonald said given the 10 changes made for the game against the Rebels in Melbourne at the weekend, and the opportunity for players with fewer minutes to get game time, they were very happy with the way it all panned out.

With Israel Dagg back in the selection mix there was a conundrum over wherehe was best placed in the side. In his absence David Havili had shone at fullback while George Bridge had been impressive on the wing.

MacDonald said one of Havili's biggest strengths is also one of his biggest weaknesses.

"He is so versatile he can do a job for you anywhere and with Israel's injury to his knee he has had the luxury of playing in one position and he's been outstanding.

"We're conscious that he's pretty settled there, he's doing a good job and he's enjoying it and we don't want to tinker around with that too much," he said.

MacDonald who has also been his coach with the Tasman side said it had been Havili's first real chance to develop in a permanent position. He hadn't been a Mr Fixit jumping around all over the place.

Anyone who had been involved in coaching understood how talented he was. He was 'amazingly skilful', he had great feet and he was tough.

"He's resilient, he loves a real challenge and he's a competitor. He's bringing that every week," he said.

Flanker Jed Brown, who scored two tries against the Rebels, went into the game expecting to get about 30 minutes of time, but after injury to Pete Samu he ended up with about 70 minutes.

He was hopeful that might see him given the chance to play the Highlanders this weekend.

The game time was some reward for working hard recovering from injuries that had frustrated his career ambitions including hamstring issues, an ACL and a shoulder injury.