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Crusaders expect tough clash with Hurricanes

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The unbeaten Crusaders expect the toughest match of their season to date when they meet the Hurricanes in the seventh round of the Super 14 on Friday.


Crusaders coach Robbie Deans said he feels the Hurricanes are “lying in wait” for his team which extended its 2008 winning streak to six games with last week’s 34-7 win over the Waratahs.


The Hurricanes and the Crusaders met in the 2006 Super 14 final and have developed a potent rivalry over 12 years Super rugby.


The Crusaders have accumulated six championships in that time and the Hurricanes, known for exciting but erratic performances, has often been its greatest stumbling block.


The Hurricanes had picked up four consecutive wins before a sixth-round bye and is seen to have he personnel, the powerful loose-forwards, line-breaking backs and the game to trouble the Crusaders.


“It’s going to be a major challenge, the toughest we’ve had to date,” Deans said. “Obviously, they’ve got a great ability to finish and to create line breaks.


“A big part of our focus will be on being accurate in the tackle, because they tend to sting you if you give them that sort of leeway.”


The Hurricanes coach Colin Cooper expects Crusaders to employ the shrewd kicking game it has used to good effect throughout the season in the match at the Hurricanes’ Westpac Stadium.


That has been part of his rationale for selecting two specialist fullbacks, Cory Jane and Shannon Paku, and recalling winger Ma’a Nonu, who is one of the Super 14’s most dangerous counter-attackers.


“They will kick and they chase really well so we have to be really smart in what we do with the ball,” Cooper said.


“Is that run it, move it or kick it? We’ve got the options there but the fact is their defense is really good and they win the territory game in all their games.”


South Africa’s unbeaten Sharks return to action Saturday, after a sixth-round bye, when they take on the Reds in Durban.


The Sharks dropped nine points behind Crusaders with last week’s bye and may need a bonus point win over the Reds, who come off a 24-24 draw with the Lions, to keep pace with the tournament leaders.


No South African team managed to win in round six and the task looks similarly difficult in round seven as the Cheetahs take on the Waratahs, the Bulls face the Blues and the Stormers face the Western Force, on a streak after back-to-back wins in New Zealand.


The Crusaders – Hurricanes clash is one of two all-New Zealand matches in round seven, followed on Saturday by the meeting of the Chiefs and Highlanders.


The Highlanders are winless through six rounds but has lost all of its matches by narrow margins: last week’s eight-point loss to the Force was its worst.


The Chiefs made a sharp form improvement in round six when it drubbed the defending champions Bulls, but the clash with the Highlanders may be harder.


“This week is a local Kiwi derby and these are usually tough physical games,” coach Ian Foster said.


“It’s pretty important for us to build on the momentum we got from last week’s win over the Bulls and deliver another quality performance.”


The Blues have been strengthened for their match with the Bulls by the return of All Blacks flyhalf Nick Evans, sidelined for two weeks with a concussion, and winger Joe Rokocoko.


The Lions, who have a weekend bye along with the Brumbies, begin a five-match tour of New Zealand and Australia on April 4. They’ll be without captain Ernst Joubert, who will undergo a shoulder operation.


Cobus Grobbelaar will take over as captain while flanker Wilhelm Koch has been selected in Joubert’s place.


Sapa-AP – Super14.com

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