Highlanders

Highlanders v Crusaders preview

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Carisbrook, Dunedin, 17.30 (05.30 GMT)

Carisbrook, or the House of Pain, as it is also referred to, simply just doesn’t hold the same fear factor it once used to.

The Highlanders have been unable to string a series of results of any significance together at home since 2003. Two wins in a row at Carisbrook now constitutes a run of victories.

Add to that mix a team that is high on confidence after putting 53 points past the Western Force – without conceding anything – and you can see why the Crusaders will be favourites in Dunedin on Saturday.

But Crusaders coach Robbie Deans is not taking anything for granted. He has made it clear that his team is preparing for this game as if it is a final … a must win game.

“Outcomes are simply a by-product of how any team prepares and then performs in the contest. If you do that well, the chances are, you will get a positive outcome,” Deans said about his team’s approach and preparation this week.

That means the Highlanders can forget about catching the Crusaders off-guard.

“For us, the only thing that matters is the next contest that we will have, which happens to be a very difficult assignment against the Highlanders in Dunedin.

“The Highlanders are a side who always rise a notch or two for us, as you would expect given that it is a local derby,” Deans added.

The Highlanders have also taken note of what it will require to avoid being blown away like the Force were last week.

For one, the Highlanders can’t afford to be as sloppy on defence as they were in their 34-38 defeat at the hands of the Chiefs in Queenstown.

The Crusaders certainly know the way to the tryline – they have scored 14 tries in their last two outings – both against quality outfits. They put eight past the Force in a 53-0 drubbing and six past the Waratahs – even though a last-minute failed conversion by Peter Hewat saved them from defeat in Sydney.

Not surprising then the Highlanders’ focus this week has been on defence.

“We had an off day defensively last week which is uncharacteristic for us,” Highlanders coach Greg Cooper said about the loss to the Chiefs – which was only the second time this season the Highlanders had conceded four tries or more in a game.

“Obviously the Crusaders are the best attacking team in terms of stats, so our defence has to be strong because we will be put to the test.”

At 38 tries in nine starts the Crusaders easily average four tries a game … which is normally a winning stat.

Prediction: The Highlanders are likely to huff-and-puff a bit for this derby, but they are likely to run out of puff in the latter stages as the Crusaders run away with it. The Crusaders by 15 points or more.

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 James Wilson, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Viliame Waqaseduadua, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Toby Morland, 8 Ezra Taylor, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Josh Blackie (c), 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Carl Hayman, 2 Anton Oliver, 1 ClarkeDermody.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Chris King, 18 Kane Thompson, 19 Hale T-Pole, 20 Ryan McCarthy, 21 Charlie Hore, 22 Callum Bruce.

Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Scott Hamilton, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Kevin Senio, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Isaac Ross, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Kieran Read, 19 Johnny Leo’o, 20 Andrew Ellis, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Rua Tipoki/Rico Gear.

Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Touch judges: Paul Honiss (New Zealand), Gary Wise (New Zealand)
Television match official: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)
Assessor: Stuart Beissel (New Zealand), Lusanda Menze (South Africa)

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