The Crusaders will hope to make it a perfect dozen of Super Rugby wins this season when they take on the Chiefs in Suva, Fiji, on Friday.
It’s been a remarkable campaign to date for the seven-time champions and last week’s impressive victory over the champion Hurricanes was further evidence that they are definite challengers for the title. Round after round they’ve grown stronger and look to be the real deal.
To shut out the ‘Canes, who had averaged seven tries a game before their meeting in Christchurch, was a defensive masterclass from Scott Robertson’s charges and they will hope to do something similar against a Chiefs franchise that is their nearest challenger in New Zealand.
Speaking of the Conference table, it’s an eight-point margin separating the Crusaders and Chiefs and while the former have been the stand-out team this season, previous results are definitely in favour of the men from Hamilton. They have won their last four games against the Crusaders by an average margin of 14 points and have not lost the first meeting between these teams in a Super Rugby campaign since 2011.
The Chiefs have restricted the Crusaders to fewer than 20 points in each of their last six meetings when hosting them, winning all but one of those six with only a one-point loss in 2014 blemishing that record. Furthermore, the Chiefs are undefeated against fellow New Zealand opposition this season, netting three wins so far, which makes this another test for the Crusaders, another which they will hope to pass.
Last season’s clash in Fiji was affected by the wet weather but this year’s forecast looks much more promising as the country’s passionate fans turn out to see many of their heroes, with Crusaders pair Seta Tamanivalu and Manasa Mataele set to get a warm welcome at the ground.
Robertson though expects a heated affair on the field in what’s a mouth-watering game to kick off Round 13. Win and that should be the New Zealand Conference sewn up for the Crusaders, but a Chiefs victory would leave the door for top spot ajar with the June break approaching.
The last time the teams met: The most recent clash between these teams was in Suva last year in a game played in poor weather conditions. The Chiefs won 23-13 thanks to first-half tries from James Lowe and Brad Weber. Jone Macilai hit back just before the break to reduce the margin to 17-10, but the men from Hamilton held on and a late penalty from Damian McKenzie even denied the Crusaders a losing bonus point.
Team news: Chiefs head coach Dave Rennie has named a formidable line-up to face the Crusaders for the first time this season. It features five changes to the starting XV that defeated the Reds 46-17 in New Plymouth. There’s just one change in the forwards with Nathan Harris making his first start of the campaign at hooker. There are four changes to the backs with co-captain Aaron Cruden returning at fly-half. Anton Lienert-Brown moves to inside centre from 13, Sam McNicol is promoted from the bench to 13 while Tim Nanai-Williams is on the wing.
Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made two changes to the team that beat the Hurricanes last week for their clash with the Chiefs. Captain Sam Whitelock returns at lock, replacing the injured Scott Barrett, and half-backs Mitchell Drummond and Bryn Hall rotate so that Hall takes the starting spot this week.
Form: The Chiefs went into a bye week on the back of a four-match winning run having beaten the Cheetahs, Sunwolves, Force and Reds. They have won nine out of their ten matches so far this season and also have the best defence in the competition, having leaked just 190 points.
The Crusaders, who have played one game more than the Chiefs, are flying with 11 victories out of 11, their most recent coming against the Hurricanes. They average six tries per game but last week showed their defence is also solid as they shut down the ‘Canes in a fine effort.
2016: Chiefs won 23-13 in Suva
2016: Chiefs won 27-21 in Christchurch
2015: Chiefs won 26-9 in Christchurch
2015: Chiefs won 40-16 in Hamilton
2014: Crusaders won 17-18 in Hamilton
2014: Chiefs won 18-10 in Christchurch
2013 (semi-final): Chiefs won 20-19 in Hamilton
2013: Crusaders won 15-43 in Christchurch
Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Sam McNicol, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (cc), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames
Replacements: 16 Hika Elliot, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Taleni Seu, 20 Liam Messam, 21 Jonathan Taumateine, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Pete Samu, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Date: Friday, May 19
Venue: ANZ National Stadium, Suva
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant Referees: Brendon Pickerill, Paul Williams
TMO: Shane McDermott