The Crusaders will start the defence of their title in what should be a tough encounter against the Chiefs in Christchurch on Saturday.
Duels between these two sides are usually thrilling and uncompromising battles although the Crusaders have held the upper-hand in this fixture in recent times and beat the Chiefs on two occasions in 2017.
The Crusaders and Chiefs have had quite the opening round history, facing off against each other three times in the last decade in Christchurch. They went head-to-head in 2009 (Crusaders won 19-13), 2014 (Chiefs won 18-10), 2016 (Chiefs won 27-21).
And this weekend’s match-up is eagerly awaited throughout New Zealand as both these sides have proven game-breakers who will be determined to stamp their authority on this match.
Overall the Crusaders have won 18 of their 31 clashes against the Chiefs in Super Rugby history (L13), including nine of their 14 meetings on home turf. An average aggregate points total of 46 across these meetings should set the scene for a pulsating encounter this weekend, albeit one the home side will probably start as favourites for.
Although the Crusaders have won their last two games against the Chiefs, you have to go back to a four-game streak between 2009-2011 for the last time they won more against them in succession; and bearing in mind the Chiefs have won each of their last three regular season games away from home against the Crusaders, maybe a home victory is not a foregone conclusion.
That being said the Crusaders were undefeated at home in 2017 and their nine-game winning streak on their own turf is their best since an 11-game streak from 2012 to 2013. In fact they have won seven of their last eight games against fellow New Zealand opposition – four of those wins coming after they were level or trailing at half-time, so don’t write them off at the break if they aren’t on top.
Hitting their stride early has been a signature of this current Chiefs side, they have opened each of their last five Super Rugby campaigns with a win, after doing so just once in the eight seasons prior, if they can continue this theme this weekend then it will be a great springboard for 2018.
The last time the teams met: These sides faced off in the semi-finals in Christchurch last year and the Crusaders proved too strong for their visitors and eventually won 27-13 after leading 10-6 at half-time. Seta Tamanivalu led the way for the home side with a 10-point haul courtesy of a brace of tries and Israel Dagg and Bryn Hall also dotted down with Richie Mo’unga kicking two conversions and a penalty. Brodie Retallick scored the Chiefs’ only try and Damian McKenzie su
Team news: The defending champions’ run-on side includes nine All Blacks with 281 Test caps between them, led by captain Sam Whitelock and vice-captains Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty. There are just two changes from the side that played their final pre-season match against the Highlanders in Waimumu last Thursday. Luke Romano joins the starting line up this week, and will lead the team to field for what will be his 100th match for the Crusaders.
Scott Barrett will provide locking cover on the bench. In the backs, George Bridge will start on the left wing, having spent some time at full-back during the pre-season. Billy Harmon could be set to earn his first Super Rugby cap on Saturday night, if called upon in the reserves and another familiar face returns to the matchday 23 this week in former Crusaders and Highlanders prop, Chris King, who will wear the number 17 jersey.
Form: The Crusaders’ pre-season programme started with a loss to the Hurricanes in Greymouth before heading to the Brisbane Tens where they bowed out in the semi-finals. They then lost 42-26 in their final pre-season match against the Highlanders in Waimumu.
The Chiefs were back in Brisbane to defend the Tens title they won in 2017 but were knocked out in the quarter-finals this year. After that, they took on the Brumbies on the Sunshine Coast where they claimed a 38-26 victory over the men from Canberra.
2017: Crusaders won 27-13 in Christchurch (semi-final)
2017: Crusaders won 31-24 in Suva
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 18-17 in Hamilton
2014: Chiefs won 18-10 in Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 20-19 in Hamilton (semi-final)
2013: Crusaders won 43-15 in Christchurch
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 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor, Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Chris King, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Billy Harmon, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Chiefs: 15 Charlie Ngatai (cc), 14 Shaun Stevenson, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Johnny Faauli, 11 Solomon Alaimalo, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Taleni Seu, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Mitchell Brown, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Brodie Retallick, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Aidan Ross
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Atunaisa Moli, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Liam Messam, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Sean Wainui
Date: Saturday, February 24
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (06:35 GMT)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nick Briant (New Zealand), James Doleman (New Zealand)
TMO: Aaron Paterson (New Zealand)