The return of All Blacks flyhalf Aaron Cruden should inspire the Chiefs to victory over the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday.
Cruden will make his long-awaited return from a serious knee injury, ironically sustained in last year’s fixture against the Crusaders at the AMI Stadium, and he will be determined to make up for lost time.
The injury ruined his 2015 season and ruled him out of the World Cup, but reports suggest he has already displayed some encouraging signs during some much-needed game time in last Friday’s pre-season match against the Blues.
Cruden will combine with experienced All Blacks halfback Tawera Kerr-Barlow, and the duo will have a key role to play in directing a Chiefs backline that is sure to once again embrace their natural attacking approach on Saturday.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie did spring a few surprises when he named four uncapped players in his starting lineup, while the Crusaders are set to field three debutants, and so there will be an element of the unknown.
It’s the dawning of a new era for the Crusaders, with Dan Carter and Richie McCaw having ended their time in Christchurch, and the onus will be on a new generation to make their mark.
Richie Mo’unga will be one of the debutants at flyhalf, while the other newcomer Tim Boys will wear the No 7 jersey, but there are also experienced campaigners such as Kieran Read, Andy Ellis, Nemani Nadolo, Owen Franks and Sam Whitelock who will look to lead from the front.
The Chiefs have won seven out of their last 10 games against the Crusaders, including three out of their last four away games, and while it’s likely to be a closely fought battle on Saturday, they should be able to add to that impressive record.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 16, Chiefs 9
Christchurch: Crusaders 8, Chiefs 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Chiefs have won seven of their last 10 matches against the Crusaders, including wins in three of their last four away games against them.
– The Crusaders finished their 2015 Super Rugby campaign with three straight wins, scoring above 30 points on each occasion.
– The Chiefs have won only two of their last seven Super Rugby fixtures, although four of those five losses in that period came against last year’s finalists, the Highlanders and Hurricanes.
– The Chiefs conceded the most penalties (12.3), yellow cards (0.8) and turnovers (18.4) in Super Rugby last season.
– The Chiefs conceded just three tries where possession originated in the opposition half, the fewest of any side, and only the Reds (18) conceded more than the Crusaders (14).
The Teams :
Crusaders – 15 David Kaetau Havili,, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Kieran Fonotia, 11 Nemai Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Reed Prinsep, 21 Leon Fukofuka, 22 Ben Volavola, 23 Johnny McNicholl.
Chiefs – 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Michael Allardice, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Rhys Marshall, 1 Pauliasi Manu.
Subs: 16 Mitchell Graham, 17 Nathan Harris, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Johan Bardoul, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Anton Lienert-Brown, 23 Latu Vaeno.
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Jamie Nutbrown (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Glen Newman (New Zealand)