|Crusaders v Highlanders
Saturday 5:35pm at AMI Stadium
|Best bet: HT/NT- Crusaders/Crusaders ($1.85)
Value bet: Crusaders 1-12 (2.75)
The Highlanders travel north to Christchurch to face a Crusaders side coming off their first loss of the season, in a do or die clash.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robinson has named a team with eight changes to the side that lost to the Hurricanes last weekend. He has looked for players with big game experience for the clash with their south island rivals. It is a fresh front row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks, who return after being rested last week. Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa and Ben Funnell will cover from the bench. Sam Whitelock returns to the starting line-up to captain the team and vice-captain Ryan Crotty returns at inside centre. That sees David Havili shift back to fullback and Israel Dagg move to the wing.
The Highlanders have also named a near full strength side for the clash. All Blacks, Ben and Aaron Smith return to the backline that features Richard Buckman on the left wing and the hard running Rob Thompson in the midfield. Coach Tony Brown has elected to go with a 6 forwards 2 backs split on the reserves bench perhaps anticipating an intense battle up front.
Last time they met
3rd June 2017: Crusaders 25 Highlanders 22
Stats that matter
The Crusaders are looking for their 15th win of the season which would equal the record for the most wins by any team in a single Super Rugby season.
Kieran Read vs Luke Whitelock: Whitelock returns to face his old team with the formidable task of matching up against All Blacks captain Kieran Read. The 26 year old already has 70 super rugby caps but is yet to really make his mark at a higher level and the Wolf thinks this is the perfect opportunity to do just that. The Crusaders back row has been a power house this season and Kieran Read has the strength and experience to singlehandedly take the game away from the Highlanders.
Last week’s final round loss to the Hurricanes denied the Crusaders top seeding, and ended their record 14-match winning streak. The Highlanders have also had a relatively strong season and are coming off a 40-17 win over the Reds at home. The teams have already met twice this season with the Crusaders winning both by three points, but needing a 78th-minute try in Round 2, and an 83rd-minute drop goal in Round 15 to do so.
How it’s shaping up
The Crusaders are still the team to beat in the competition but anything can happen in the knock out rounds. The Highlanders have nothing to lose, so expect them to come out firing. The Crusaders will be feeling the pressure after their loss last week but the return of experienced campaigners will settle the nerves. Another close encounter looks certain with the projected bad weather perhaps tipping the balance slightly in the hosts favour.
Crusaders by 6