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Crusaders pack All Black power for Lions clash

June 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders have turned their clash with the British and Irish Lions on Saturday into a dress rehearsal for the All Blacks tight five ahead of the first Test.

Crusaders

The Super Rugby competition leaders have named an All Blacks front row with Joe Moody, Owen Franks and Codie Taylor, along with locks Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano.

They spearhead a squad containing nine All Blacks including a third prop, Wyatt Crockett, on the bench.

Israel Dagg, included in the 33-man New Zealand Test squad to face Samoa and the Lions announced on Thursday, will start at fullback.

Adding to the Crusaders depth is eight-Test flanker Matt Todd, who is on standby as injury cover for the Lions series, and three-Test wing Seta Tamanivalu who missed the cut this year.

Coach Scott Robertson predicted a “fantastic clash”.

“This is a huge and exciting challenge for us,” he said.

“We are facing some of the best rugby players in the world, but we have some of the world’s best in this team too, so it will be a fantastic clash.

“No matter how it unfolds, this will be a game that the players involved will remember as one of the special moments in their careers.”

The only changes to the Crusaders team that maintained their unbeaten Super Rugbyrecord last week against the Highlanders sees a rotation at half-back with Bryn Hall starting, a switch to inside centre for David Havili, Dagg at fullback, and Tim Bateman on the bench.

Crusaders (15-1): Israel Dagg; Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge; Richie Mo’Unga, Bryn Hall; Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis; Sam Whitelock (capt), Luke Romano; Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody Replacements: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Jed Brown, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Tim Bateman

Wallabies ‘ready for the fight’ to restore morale – Cheika

June 5, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Coach Michael Cheika has vowed the Wallabies will lift the spirits of the Australian game amid a demoralising Super Rugby campaign in this week’s start to the international Test season.

Wallabies

Australian rugby is in the doldrums with its five franchises struggling and one, as yet unnamed, facing the axe when Super Rugby reverts to 15 teams next season form the current 18.

New Zealand teams are currently unbeaten in their 23 Super Rugby matches against Australian opposition this year.

Cheika said Sunday the Wallabies’ first five Tests of 2017 were going to be “like Everest for us”, but added that the players were ready for the fight.

Super Rugby takes a back seat for the next three weeks as the Wallabies take on Fiji, Scotland and Italy at home.

Also ahead in August is the Bledisloe Cup, which Australia has not been able to win back from the All Blacks since 2002.

“These first five games of our season, the three June Tests and the two Bledisloe Cup matches, are going to be like an Everest for us,” Cheika said on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Offsiders programme.

“We’ve got to be fully prepared and we’ve got to enjoy the challenge as well… and get stuck into it.

“I’m a strong and passionate believer in rugby in this country. Yeah, there’s some tough times on and off the field but it’s what you get from those and how you respond.”

Cheika added that Australian rugby fans were looking to the Wallabies to put things right on the field.

“We’ve got to play with a certain attitude that says we’re here for the fight,” he said.

“The Australian team will be playing with no fear and having been well prepared to go out there and have that positive mindset.”

While Cheika believed that Australia had “punched above our weight so far… even to be where we are now — third in the world”, he wanted to set the team’s sights even higher ahead of the 2019 World Cup in Japan.

“But maybe we’ve been satisfied at that level instead of going to the next step. You got to start believing and dreaming that.

“For the next generation of players, that’s the mindset we want to put in their head.”

The Wallabies kick off their 2017 international campaign against Fiji in Melbourne on Saturday, followed by Tests against Scotland in Sydney on June 17 and Italy in Brisbane on June 24.

Hunt the hero as Crusaders escape in nail-biter

June 3, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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A sensational 45-metre Mitchell Hunt drop goal three minutes into injury time gave the Canterbury Crusaders a 25-22 win over the Otago Highlanders on Saturday in a Super Rugby clash that may have repercussions for the All Blacks.

Crusaders

It was the second heart-break finish for the Highlanders against the only unbeaten side in the competition after the Crusaders produced a stunning fightback to turn a 6-27 deficit into a 30-27 victory when they met in round two.

This time the Highlanders were up 22-19 with four minutes to go after a pair of Waisake Naholo tries early in the second half lifted them from a 19-10 deficit at the turn.

But in the fallout from the frenetic, physical battle, key All Blacks Ben Smith and Ryan Crotty were injured and unable to play out the game.

Three weeks out from the first Test against the British and Irish Lions, Highlanders fullback Ben Smith failed a concussion test and influential centre Ryan Crotty of Crusaders left the field with rib damage.

As they watched on from the sideline, the Highlanders looked to have laid their early season meltdown to rest until Crusaders replacement fly-half Hunt took the field.

With four minutes remaining he landed one penalty to tie the scores. When he missed a another shot the referee said there were only 10 seconds remaining.

Crusaders forwards fielded the restart and drove their way up field, making a metre at a time for nearly three minutes after the final hooter until Hunt banked over the match-winning drop goal.

Hunt said the tiring pack really gave him no choice.

“Wyatt Crockett turned around and said ‘do something with it’ and there’s wasn’t anything else I could do,” he said, admitting he was surprised the kick went over.

“For a short player I can hardly punt it that far so I was pretty lucky with that kick.”

It was the Crusaders’ 14th consecutive victory, breaking the previous Super Rugby record of 13 set by the 2002 edition of the Crusaders.

The Highlanders, with their nine-match winning streak coming to an end, now almost certainly face a lengthy journey to South Africa.

The Crusaders started at a relentless pace, with the first try on the board after three minutes by Mitchell Drummond before Crotty put Seta Tamanivalu away for the second for a 12-0 lead after 15 minutes.

But when Crusaders flanker Heiden Bedwell Curtis was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate foul, the Highlanders bounced back with a try to Richard Buckman and a conversion and penalty by Marty Banks while they had a one-man advantage.

Bedwell-Curtis marked his return to the field with a try for the Crusaders to hold a 19-10 at half-time.

The game turned in the space of five minutes after the resumption with Naholo’s double and the game became an arm wrestle until Hunt’s heroics at the close.

Unbeaten Crusaders block out title talk

May 25, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders have shut out Super Rugby title talk as they grapple with an arduous schedule that has them playing in their fourth country in as many weeks on Saturday.

Crusaders

The competition leaders are in Melbourne to play the struggling Rebels at the end of a month that has taken them from South Africa, New Zealand, Fiji and now Australia.

With an 11-point lead in the tough New Zealand conference, only three games left in the regular season and the impending return from injury of All Black Israel Dagg, the Crusaders have reason to feel confident.

Victory over the Rebels, who have lost all but one game this year, would be win number 13, equalling the record held by the 2002 Crusaders — who featured current coach Scott Robertson.

But despite dominating the competition, the seven-time champions insist they are not yet thinking about the play-offs.

“If we are already in them, tell me where and when. Who are we playing?” assistant coach Brad Mooar said, when it was suggested the Crusaders will cruise into the knock-out phase.

“There is a lot more footy to go yet. We are totally focused on the Rebels this week.”

The Crusaders’ focus may be owing to the fact that they still have to play the Otago Highlanders and the Wellington Hurricanes again, while their nearest rivals for the coveted top spot, the Golden Lions, have an easier run-in.

The top South African side, only three points behind the Crusaders, have the Southern Kings this weekend followed by the Sunwolves and Coastal Sharks.

The Crusaders are on 54 points and the Lions 51 while the Hurricanes and Chiefs, both with a game in hand, remain within striking distance on 43.

In the much-criticised competition format, which guarantees the four conference winners fill the top four places with home advantage in the play-offs, the Western Stormers (30 points) and ACT Brumbies (23) are ranked third and fourth with the Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs fifth and sixth.

On Friday, the Chiefs travel to the neighbouring Auckland Blues whose loss to the Stormers last week saw their play-off hopes replaced by the role of potential spoilers.

The Blues have not beaten the Chiefs since June 2011, but apart from the notable exception of Jerome Kaino, they will be at near full-strength and with Sonny Bill Williams needing to impress All Blacks selectors before the squad to play the British and Irish Lions next month is finalised.

South Africa’s Golden Lions, with captain Warren Whiteley appointed this week as the new Springboks leader, play the Kings in a rare Sunday match for South African teams.

“It’s not ideal,” said coach Johan Ackermann whose Lions are looking to extend an 11-match winning streak at their Ellis Park fortress in Johannesburg.

“The reality is we’re in an era of professional sport and if the competition dictates that we play on a Sunday then we will do so.”

The Hurricanes, still without Dane Coles who continues to battle concussion symptoms, are in South Africa to play the Northern Bulls.

Africa 1 conference leaders, the Stormers, play the Coastal Sharks while the Brumbies are in Argentina to face the Jaguares.

Unbeaten Crusaders down Chiefs to stay top

May 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders maintained their unbeaten run with a 31-24 win over the Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday, extending their lead at the top of the Super Rugby table.

Crusaders

The Crusaders only scored three tries to four against their closest New Zealand rivals but fly-half Richie Mo’unga’s two conversions and four penalties gave them the win.

The result boosts the Crusaders chances of finishing top of the ladder and claiming the reward of home-ground advantage in the play-offs.

Captain Sam Whitelock said it was pleasing to see his backline take control after the forwards delivered victory against the Wellington Hurricanes last week.

“The whole year we’ve had the balance right between forwards and backs,” he said.

“Either unit can step up when they need to, that’s awesome as a captain.”

There was a concern for All Blacks selectors when Crusaders centre Ryan Crotty left the field with possible concussion, adding to a growing injury list ahead of the British and Irish Lions series.

But they could take heart from the fact that fly-half Aaron Cruden was in sparkling form, despite being on the losing side.

The fixture was nominally a Chiefs home game but they moved it to Fiji to recognise the contribution Pacific islanders make to New Zealand rugby.

The meeting between New Zealand’s top-performing sides lived up to expectations as the lead changed four times before the Crusaders took control in the second half.

The Chiefs looks set for an upset win with a 17-13 lead at the break but conceded too many penalties as the Crusaders remained disciplined.

Cruden set up the opening try, accelerating into space then sending a floating pass to set up Tim Nanai-Williams on the wing.

He then followed up with a kick from deep within his own half that bounced perfectly for the onrushing James Lowe.

The Crusaders hit back with a Heiden Bedwell-Curtis try but the Chiefs scored another when Kane Hames managed to ground the ball through a tangle of bodies.

The Crusaders began the second half with a magnificent David Havili try after Richie Mo’unga intercepted a Cruden kick and sparked an attack that left the Chiefs defenders grasping at air.

Ben Funnell consolidated the lead off the back of a jinking Mo’unga run, only for Cruden to claw one back for the Chiefs after dodging past three defenders.

The Chiefs had a late chance at a lineout but squandered it by knocking on the ball.

Crusaders beat ‘Canes in Super Rugby heavyweight fight

May 14, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders have strengthened their claims for an eighth Super Rugby crown with a dominating win over defending champions Wellington Hurricanes to stay unbeaten this season.

Crusaders

Crusaders’ forward pack crushed the Hurricanes 20-12 in Christchurch to remain unbeaten after 11 games and open an eight-point lead in the formidable New Zealand conference.

Kiwi teams have dominated this season’s Super Rugby competition ahead of next month’s much-anticipated British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

Saturday’s showdown between the two Super Rugby heavyweights was expected to be a try-fest. But at half-time it was locked up at 9-9, with all the points from penalties.

Eventually, the power of the Crusaders’ All Blacks-laden forward pack and the smart direction of centre Ryan Crotty defused the Hurricanes strike force of Beauden and Jordie Barrett and kept them tryless for the first time in three years.

The Crusaders had more than enough power up-front despite being without injured All Blacks Kieran Read and suspended Sam Whitelock.

Scott Barrett (ankle) and Matt Todd (concussion) also had to leave the field during the game.

“It was such a massive effort,” said Crotty, who ended up captaining the side in the absence of Todd.

“We didn’t let them get anything going off set-piece, which was massive, a credit to the tight five.”

South Africa’s Golden Lions won their third Australian tour game with a resilient 13-6 win over the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.

The Lions scored the only try of the dour contest through Springbok Sevens star Kwagga Smith early in the second half after trailing the Australian conference leaders 3-0 at half-time.

It was only the second win for the Johannesburg-based Lions in Canberra, with the result lifting them to a 13-point lead over the Coastal Sharks in the Africa 2 conference.

“It was a grind. Gee, it was a tough battle, the conditions were tough, the ball was slippery and we had to keep it tight, so I am extremely proud of the boys,” Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said.

The Sharks went down 35-32 to the revitalised Southern Kings — who are under threat of the axe when Super Rugby reverts to only 15 teams next year — in Port Elizabeth.

It was the seemingly-doomed Kings’ fourth win of the season and their first over a fellow South African side.

All Blacks centre Malakai Fekitoa scored a brilliant solo try to give New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders a 17-10 win over the Northern Bulls in Pretoria.

The Highlanders are fourth in the New Zealand conference but in contention for a berth in the post-season eight-team finals with 36 points.

Skipper Samu Kerevi scored a last-minute try to grab a thrilling 29-24 victory for the Queensland Reds over the Rebels in Melbourne.

The Reds scored five tries to two to stay alive for the finals but found it difficult to put away the Rebels, whose place in next year’s competition is still to be determined.

Queensland’s win pushed them above the NSW Waratahs into second place in the Australian conference and three points behind the Brumbies.

All Black prospect Rieko Ioane scored a try double as the Auckland Blues trounced South Africa’s Central Cheetahs 50-32 at Eden Park.

Australia’s Western Force won on the road in Super Rugby for the first time since last May when they upset Argentina’s Jaguares 16-6 in Buenos Aires.

The Waikato Chiefs, Western Stormers, Sunwolves and Waratahs all had byes.

Crunch time for Crusaders in stellar Super Rugby season

May 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Table-topping Canterbury Crusaders defend their unbeaten run against the Beauden Barrett-influenced Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday to start a season-defining fortnight of Super Rugby.

Crusaders

In the fiercely-contested New Zealand conference, the Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs, who the Crusaders play the following week, have only lost one game and are within striking distance of the top spot and its reward of home-ground advantage in the play-offs.

Keeping a close eye on the torrid New Zealand derbies are South African front-runners Golden Lions, who have also lost only one game and as long as they don’t falter are poised to take the overall lead should the New Zealand trio cancel each other out.

Under the wieldy Super Rugby set-up — due to be changed next year — the Lions do not play any New Zealand sides during the normal season.

“I suppose the next two weeks, the local derbies against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes, is the real test,” Crusaders assistant coach and former All Blacks fullback Leon MacDonald said.

“Once we get through the next two weeks we will know really where we are at, and things will be a little bit more real.”

The Crusaders have won 10 out of 10 in the best winning streak by any team in a season since MacDonald was playing when they went through 2002 undefeated.

But to preserve that record, they will have to pay particular attention to the skills of Barrett who has consistently boosted the Hurricanes this year with his deft kicking skills.

“The fact he has got a short one, and a long one, it makes it difficult to cover. He is a special player and we all know that. It is just one of the challenges of playing the Hurricanes,” MacDonald said.

“The real strength, especially, of Beaudie’s play is his ability to read the play on the go. It doesn’t need to be pre-called. He will see space and attack it.”

While the Chiefs have a bye this weekend, and a chance to freshen up before they play the Crusaders in Suva next week, the Lions are in Canberra to face top Australian side ACT Brumbies.

After racking up bonus-point wins over the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels, the Lions know they are in for a much tougher battle against the Brumbies in the final match of their swing through Australia.

“They’ll test us physically, that’s for sure. I like to think of them as a Bulls-like team, big and strong, and always looking to disrupt their opponents’ rhythm,” coach Johan Ackermann said.

Although the form book backs the Lions, Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham has warned his side should not be underestimated as they look to turn around what has been a sorry year for Australian rugby.

Australian teams have won just three of 27 games against international sides so far this season, have not beaten any New Zealand teams, and the Brumbies lead their conference with only three wins from nine games.

“Three wins is not good enough for us. We’ve lost our last three but we’ve had good focus this week. We just want to win the game in front of us and not worry about the ladder,” Larkham said.

Should the Lions lose they will still be the premier South African side with their nearest rivals, the Coastal Sharks, 10 points behind.

The Sharks this week play the struggling Southern Kings.

Sonny Bill joins All Blacks injury concerns

May 8, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Sonny Bill Williams has become the latest addition to the All Blacks injury concerns, suffering possible concussion in the Auckland Blues’ Super Rugby win over the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday.

Sonny Bill Williams

 

Captain Kieran Read, Jerome Kaino and Dane Coles head a list of senior players already in a race against time to be match fit before the British and Irish Lions arrive next month.

Double World Cup winning centre Williams left the field for a head injury assessment just before half-time and never returned.

Coach Tana Umaga told the New Zealand Herald he could not confirm the result of the assessment but Williams displayed concussion “symptoms”.

Williams was injured when team mate and prop Pauliasi Manu landed on him and Umaga said the team doctor advised he was not fit to return to the game.

“It will be a wait and see how he responds,” Umaga said.

“It’s just how he pulls up today, how he pulls up tomorrow. He was still having symptoms after the game.

“What’s happened with concussion in the past … sometimes people respond well and can play next week and sometimes they don’t.”

Williams’s injury comes as Charlie Ngatai returned to the Waikato Chiefs after a year sidelined by concussion.

He scored a crucial try in the Chiefs win over the Queensland Reds to join a logjam of fit centres with Test experience.

Also vying for a midfield slot against the Lions are Ryan Crotty, Malakai Fekitoa, Anton Leinert-Brown, George Moala and Seta Tamanivalu.

Lions roar to seventh straight win with Rebels rout

May 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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South Africa’s red-hot Golden Lions posted their biggest win in Australia with a thumping 47-10 Super Rugby victory over the Melbourne Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday.

Lions

The Johannesburg-based Lions hammered the hapless Rebels seven tries to one for their seventh straight win in this season’s competition.

The Lions, losing finalists to the Wellington Hurricanes last year, further extended their lead at the top of the South Africa 2 conference with their bonus-point romp.

The injury-depleted Rebels, fighting to stay in next season’s Super Rugby competition, trailed 14-7 late in the first half but were no match for the slick Lions steered by their classy halves combination of Elton Jantjies and Ross Cronje.

A highlight of the free-scoring victory was a sensational try by winger Sylvian Mahuza from his side of halfway in the 50th minute where he toyed with the Rebels defence.

“Momentum is building, but there is still a lot that needs to be worked on,” skipper Warren Whiteley said.

“We still have some soft moments within the game. We’re hard on ourselves, we want to keep on improving and this competition keeps you on your toes.

“It will get no easier next week against the ACT Brumbies in Canberra.”

Lions flanker Kwagga Smith opened the scoring after 20 minutes following sustained pressure and Cronje crossed five minutes later.

The scrum-half swept on to an inside ball from hooker Malcolm Marx and beat two defenders to open up a 14-0 lead.

The Rebels worked hard and grabbed their only try of the match when a grubber kick from scrum-half behind the Lions line was pounced on by Tom English.

The home side, watched by a small crowd, trailed by seven points but nearing half-time Lions winger Courtnal Skosan dashed over to lead 19-7 at half-time.

It was one-way traffic in the second half with four Lions tries, including Mahuza’s scintillating effort, bouncing off five Rebels players to score under the crossbar.

The Lions were awarded a penalty try midway through the half with Rebels lock Cullum Retallick yellow-carded for intentional offside as he tried to prevent a try-bound rolling maul.

Further tries from Anthony Volmink and Whiteley completed the Rebels misery.

The Rebels remain anchored at the bottom of the Australian conference with just one win.

Super Rugby front-runners Crusaders soldier on without Whitelock

May 4, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The front-running Canterbury Crusaders have decided against appealing captain Sam Whitelock’s Super Rugby suspension and will take on the Northern Bulls on Saturday without two senior All Blacks.

Crusaders

In addition to losing Whitelock, who copped a two-week ban for striking an opponent during last week’s 48-21 win over the Central Cheetahs, the Crusaders will also be without All Blacks’ captain Kieran Read, who broke a thumb in the same match.

The loss of the veteran internationals for round 11 will impact on the Crusaders’ pack against the renowned power of the Bulls’ forwards.

With the Crusaders the only unbeaten side in the competition after 10 rounds, coach Scott Robertson said after Whitelock’s suspension that they were considering an appeal.

However, a team spokesman confirmed to AFP on Thursday they had decided to accept the judiciary’s ruling and Matt Todd would take over the leadership.

The Bulls have not enjoyed the best of seasons, with only three wins so far, but two of them have been in their last two games.

They also have homeground advantage, having beaten the Crusaders for the last five times they met in Pretoria dating back to 2008, and coach Nollis Marais said the team was entering this contest with a lot of self-belief.

“The last two wins confirmed that we can indeed compete against anyone,” Marais said.

“We have a massive hurdle to overcome on Saturday though, as the Crusaders have been setting a number of benchmarks to other teams this year.

“They remain a classy side and despite not having Sam Whitelock and Kieran Read available for this match, remains one of the top teams in the competition.”

Poised to hit the top spot should the Crusaders fall are the Golden Lions, the Africa 2 conference leaders, who are in Melbourne to play the struggling Rebels.

Read’s broken thumb, which puts him in a race against time to be fit again for the June Test series against the British and Irish Lions tour, added to the All Blacks’ injury woes.

The injury concerns had worsened this week with news that Dane Coles, initially sidelined with a knee injury, now had concussion.

For weeks, the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes have explained the absence of their hooker and captain as down to a struggle to overcome a calf problem.

“Subsequent to his knee injury, he not only developed a calf strain but also some headaches,” coach Chris Boyd said when Coles’ name was missing from the team-sheet for Friday’s clash with the Western Stormers.

“He is now under a return-to-play protocol for concussion.”

The Stormers still lead the Africa 1 conference despite losing their past three games and coach Robbie Fleck has said it was time to arrest the slide.

“We have had to learn some hard lessons on this tour which will be good for us going forward,” he said.

“We face the defending champions and the players are determined to make an impression.”

While the ACT Brumbies have a bye, the NSW Waratahs have a chance to move to the top of the Australian conference.

But to do that they will have to be the first Australian side to beat a New Zealand team this year, and with a bonus point, when they host the Auckland Blues.

Canterbury Crusaders charge on without injured skipper Read

April 30, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders won a ninth Super Rugby game this weekend, but the result was soured by an injury to All Blacks skipper Kieran Read.

Golden Lions' Lionel Mapoe (R) is tackled by Canterbury Crusaders' captain Kieran Read. (AFP/Marty Melville)

The rampaging Crusaders squashed the threatened South African team Central Cheetahs 48-21 in Bloemfontein to stretch their lead in the New Zealand conference to four points, but they could be without the influential Read for up to six weeks.

Read left the field just before half-time and later had surgery on a fracture at the base of his right thumb in concerning news for the All Blacks ahead of their looming British and Irish Lions home series.

“Read’s anticipated return to play will not be known until post-surgery assessments are done, however surgery of this sort would generally require approximately six weeks of recovery,” the Crusaders said in a statement.

It continues a troubled season for the 97-capped Read, who missed the first six rounds of the competition following wrist surgery.

The seven-time Super Rugby champions were too strong for the Cheetahs, running in seven tries to secure a bonus point and remaining the team to beat in the 18-team competition.

It was the seventh loss in nine matches for the Cheetahs, who along with the Southern Kings are expected to be axed in next year’s revamped competition.

The Chiefs kept in touch with the Crusaders with an unexpectedly tense 27-20 win over Japan’s Sunwolves in Hamilton.

They were denied a bonus point despite the Sunwolves having two players sent from the field in the penultimate move of the game.

For much of the game, the unfancied Sunwolves were the dominant side as they humbled the Chiefs’ forwards in the set pieces and floored the Waikato backs with crunching tackles.

South Africa’s leading contenders the Golden Lions survived a major scare from the endangered Western Force to claim their sixth-straight win in Perth.

The Lions were strong favourites against the struggling Force, also threatened by the 2018 season cull, but the game was in the balance until the dying minutes before the Johannesburg-based team prevailed 24-15.

The resurgent Otago Highlanders humbled South Africa’s Western Stormers 57-14 for their fifth straight win.

The Highlanders scored nine tries to two, while the Stormers slumped to their third-consecutive loss after winning their opening six matches of the season.

Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley kicked five penalty goals, the last two minutes from time, to give the NSW Waratahs a morale-boosting 29-26 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.

The Waratahs closed to within four points of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies, who were playing New Zealand’s Auckland Blues in Canberra later Sunday.

Teenage fly-half Curwin Bosch kicked 18 points as South Africa’s Coastal Sharks downed Argentina’s Jaguares 33-25 in Buenos Aires.

Success gave the Sharks an eight-point advantage in the standings over the Jaguares with six rounds left as the teams battle for a quarter-finals place.

South Africa’s Southern Kings won back-to-back matches for the first time and achieved a record victory margin by trouncing the Melbourne Rebels 44-3 in Port Elizabeth.

All Blacks count injury toll ahead of Lions

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Auckland Blues hardman Jerome Kaino has joined a growing list of All Blacks sidelined by injury as the Super Rugby competition takes its toll ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour.

All-Blacks

Kaino is to undergo surgery on an injured knee on Friday and will be out of action for six weeks, putting him in doubt for the first Lions Test against the All Blacks on June 24.

The unbeaten Canterbury Crusaders head to South Africa for their round 10 match against the Central Cheetahs still without Israel Dagg, who has not been sighted since injuring a knee in their third-round clash with the Queensland Reds.

Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder from the Wellington Hurricanes, Patrick Tuipulotu (Blues), Elliot Dixon and Lima Sopoaga (Otago Highlanders) and Tawera Kerr-Barlow (Waikato Chiefs) are also sidelined.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen took a philosophical view early in the season, saying the threat of injuries highlighted the need to develop depth.

“We can’t control it, so it’s no good worrying about it,” he said of the impact Super rugbyinjuries would have on the Lions Tests.

“We’ve just got to get on with getting them right and if they’re not going to be right by the time the Lions are due to play us, then we have to make other selections. That’s just part and parcel of the game of rugby,” he said.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read has travelled with the Crusaders to Bloemfontein despite a minor hip complaint and is expected to be fit for Saturday.

The Crusaders are enjoying a hot streak of form and the way they thumped the Western Stormers 57-24 last week underscored their ability to match the physical style of South African rugby then attack with daring offloads.

“We try not to inhibit the guys, and if it is on, to back themselves,” coach Scott Robertson said of the audacious passing.

The Cheetahs are still smarting from the way they yielded a 24-0 lead over the two-time champion Chiefs to lose 41-27 two weeks ago.

Coach Franco Smith has warned his players to shut the Chiefs debacle out of their minds or “we’re going to get a big klap”, he said, using the South African term for smack.

“I don’t think it will be difficult to get the players up again to play an international side, to play an All Black side will be a challenge.”

The Chiefs are not alone in coming from behind to beat the Cheetahs, who have lost six games after leading this season.

The struggling Blues, with only three wins on the board and now without Kaino and Tuipulotu, offer the ACT Brumbies the best chance yet for an Australian side to score a win over a New Zealand franchise this year.

The record so far stands at 14-0 in New Zealand’s favour and includes the Brumbies losing to the Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes.

The Brumbies, like the Blues, have only three wins but while the Blues are bottom of the New Zealand conference, the Brumbies top the Australian sector where the game is struggling.

The NSW Waratahs had their lowest home crowd of all time when only 10,555 fans turned out to see them lose 26-24 last week to the Southern Kings, the worst-performing South African side.

This week they play the Reds in a battle to be the second-best Australian side, with neither team in a position to overtake the Brumbies.

Cruden kicks Chiefs to tight win over Force

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Waikato Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 Super Rugby win over the determined Western Force in Perth on Saturday.

Cruden

Cruden landed a conversion and three penalty goals from his four attempts to prove the difference after both sides finished with a try apiece.

In winning the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s Super Rugby.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, never gave the Chiefs a moment’s peace and kept them under the shackles.

The Chiefs finished off a gruelling tour where they split their two games in South Africa against the Western Stormers and Central Cheetahs.

The Chiefs remain in third spot three points behind the Canterbury Crusaders in the New Zealand conference after seven wins from eight games.

“I was proud of the way the boys were able to dig in in that second 40 minutes and grind it out,” Cruden said.

“We knew that the Force coming off a bye and obviously everything they are going through would show an immense passion and pride and that’s certainly what they did.”

Parent body RugbyWA has launched legal action against the Australian Rugby Union (ARU) in a bid to keep threatened Force franchise afloat as the axe hovers over the Perth-based club.

Super Rugby’s governing body SANZAAR announced earlier this month that two South African teams and one from Australia would be axed from 2018, streamlining the 18-team competition to a three-conference 15-team format.

Both tries were scored in the first half with Liam Messam plunging over in the eighth minute and Force skipper Matt Hodgson scoring off the back of a rolling maul from a lineout win.

The Force suffered an injury setback midway through the opening half to their Wallaby back Dane Haylett-Petty, who came off with a damaged right hamstring.

The Chiefs have now won nine of their 11 meetings with the Force, but both of their losses have come in Perth.

Unbeaten Crusaders lead Kiwi Super juggernaut

April 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Canterbury Crusaders remained unbeaten as New Zealand teams dominated Super Rugby this weekend ahead of June’s British and Irish Lions tour.

Crusaders

The seven-time champions smashed leading South African contenders Western Stormers 57-24 in Christchurch as Kiwi teams won all four of their encounters.

George Bridge claimed a hat-trick and Kieran Read added a double in the Crusaders eight-try romp to remain unbeaten after eight matches.

The Crusaders raced to a 36-3 lead by half-time as the Cape Town-based Stormers suffered back-to-back losses after falling to the Golden Lions last week.

The Christchurch team lead the powerful New Zealand conference by three points from defending champions Wellington Hurricanes and Waikato Chiefs.

A hat-trick of tries for centre Vince Aso helped the Hurricanes to a 56-21 thumping of Australian conference leaders ACT Brumbies in Napier on Friday.

The Hurricanes scored eight tries to three in the bonus-point win, piling on 42 unanswered second-half points after trailing 14-21 at the break.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen was in the stands to run his eye over the Hurricanes ahead of the upcoming British and Irish Lions tour.

“There’s so many guys putting their hands up it’s great,” Hansen said.

In Perth, All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden kicked the Chiefs to a grinding 16-7 win over the endangered Western Force, landing a conversion and three penalty goals with both sides finishing with a try each.

In winning, the Chiefs stretched New Zealand teams’ dominance over Australian opposition to 14-0 in this season’s competition.

The Force, with their future Super Rugby participation under major threat over SANZAAR restructuring for the 2018 season, fought to the end but the Chiefs were too strong.

The Otago Highlanders were the fourth Kiwi winners with a 40-15 bonus-point victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in Invercargill.

South Africa’s threatened Southern Kings rose above their off-field turmoil with a spirited 26-24 upset win over the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney.

The Port Elizabeth-based Kings, who are also fighting to stay in next year’s competition along with the Central Cheetahs, fought back from 17-0 down to win only their fourth game in two years.

“It has been an absolutely emotional tour for us with all the news regarding Super Rugby,” Kings skipper Lionel Cronje said.

The Golden Lions are the clear leaders of the second South Africa conference, edging out the Jaguares of Argentina 24-21 win in Johannesburg.

Melbourne Rebels, another team under threat of being culled, drew 9-9 with South Africa’s Coastal Sharks in Durban.

The Northern Bulls won the all-South African encounter with the Cheetahs 20-14 in Pretoria.

The Auckland Blues and Queensland Reds had byes this weekend.

Stormers, Lions battle for Super Rugby supremacy in South Africa

April 13, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Western Stormers square off against the Golden Lions in a blockbuster South African derby while Crusaders prop Wyatt Crockett sets a match record in Super Rugby this weekend.

Stormers

The Canterbury Crusaders and Stormers are the only unbeaten sides remaining going into round eight of the competition, which next year will revert to a 15-team format from its current 18.

The fallout from governing body SANZAAR’s announcement to axe three teams — two from South Africa and one from Australia — has dominated the past week.

Threatened franchise Western Force have launched legal action against Australian rugby chiefs.

Seven-times champion Crusaders ease back into the fray following a bye by hosting the Sunwolves who won their first match of the season last week.

All Blacks captain Kieran Read is back for his first outing of the season having recovered from wrist surgery.

And the match will be a significant milestone for fellow All Black Crockett as he makes a record 176th appearance in Super Rugby.

The 34-year-old will overtake former All Black Keven Mealamu’s record of 175.

SANZAAR chief Andy Marinos described Crockett’s record as “a tremendous achievement for a player who is at the coal face of one of the hardest and most competitive rugby competitions in the world”.

The Crusaders feel comfortable enough to make a raft of changes to the side that beat the Waratahs a fortnight ago. Just five players of their 23 remain in the same position

In the showdown between the top two South African sides, the Stormers are brimming with confidence after inflicting the first loss of the season on the Waikato Chiefs last week while the Lions are coming off a bye.

Lions coach Johan Ackermann believes the week off came at the right time as it allowed several key players including Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Ruan Ackermann, and Elton Jantjies to get over niggling injuries.

The Stormers “are the team to beat in South Africa and it’s going to take something special to get the better of them at Newlands,” Ackermann said.

“They’re playing an exciting brand of rugby and their skill levels are extremely high so it’s going to be a huge challenge going there.”

The Stormers, though, have injury woes after the punishing outing against the Chiefs with flanker Cobus Wiese and locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth unable to train early in the week.

They are also in a tough sequence of matches with home games against the Chiefs and Lions to be followed by a trip to New Zealand to face the Crusaders, Otago Highlanders and Wellington Hurricanes.

The Chiefs, looking to get their season back on track, are in Bloemfontein to face a Central Cheetahs side desperate to prove they deserve to survive the Super Rugby culling process.

“These are challenging and uncertain times,” the Cheetahs said in a statement this week.

“We strongly believe that through an honest and fair process we stand a strong chance of retaining our Super Rugby status.”

The defending champion Wellington Hurricanes are in Auckland to face a Blues side which has Sonny Bill Williams starting in a new unique jersey which does not feature the logo of team sponsor Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) to conform with his Muslim beliefs.

But Williams has agreed to wear, instead, the logo of child health service Plunket whose principal sponsor is the BNZ.

In the remaining matches, top Australian side ACT Brumbies play the struggling Melbourne Rebels, who along with Western Force are under threat of being kicked out of the 2018 competition.

Elsewhere, the Queensland Reds are at home to the Southern Kings and the Northern Bulls return to South Africa after an unsuccessful road trip to host the Jaguares.

Barrett off the hook over red card

April 11, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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All Blacks fly-half Beauden Barrett has escaped further punishment after receiving a red card in the Wellington Hurricanes’ Super Rugby win over NSW Waratahs last week.

Barrett

The current World Rugby player of the year was sent off late in the match after receiving two yellow cards for deliberately knocking down the ball during Waratahs’ attacks.

The SANZAAR judiciary said it took Barrett’s exemplary disciplinary record into account before clearing him to play against the Auckland Blues this weekend.

“The player is therefore free to play and will serve no suspension,” it said in a ruling issued late Monday.

Barrett argued after the match that he was trying to intercept the ball but poor technique meant he knocked it down, rather than taking possession.

Waratahs prop Sekope Kepu was banned for one week after earning a yellow card in the same match for a dangerous tackle.

The judiciary said he received the suspension because it was his third yellow this season for similar offences.

Stevenson sparks Chiefs revival over Bulls

April 2, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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A piece of individual brilliance by Shaun Stevenson sparked a Waikato Chiefs revival to maintain their unbeaten record with a 28-12 victory over the Northern Bulls in Hamilton on Saturday.

Stevenson

The Bulls evoked memories of their past glory days when they stunned the Chiefs to lead 9-3 at half-time and continued to apply pressure after the resumption.

But with 30 minutes to play, Stevenson received the ball near the 10-metre mark, stepped around his opposite Jamba Ulengo, kicked ahead and won the race for the ball to score in the corner.

It started a three-try, 25-point spree which earned the Chiefs a bonus point to give them 24 points out of a possible 25 from five games.

“Coming off the bye we were eager to start well but it didn’t transpire that way. The first 40 was pretty disappointing and when we review it I think there’ll be a few hard truths,” captain Aaron Cruden said.

“But that second 40 was really for the fans. They came out to see an exciting brand of footy and I think we produced that in the second half.”

It was another disappointing finish for the Bulls, who last won in Hamilton in 2010, the same year they last held the Super title.

This year they are now one from five but captain Adriaan Strauss felt they are showing improvement.

“At times we showed some excitement, and some intent but the execution at vital times and pressure moments is not there yet. But we’re working on it,” he said.

In the first half, the Bulls dominated possession and worked the Chiefs around the ground.

But they were unable to cross the line, and for all the pressure they applied their only points came from three Handre Pollard penalties.

Cruden landed one penalty for the Chiefs but with two other potential shots at goal they opted for the line out drive and lost the ball on both occasions.

The game turned with Stevenson’s try in the 50th minute with Cruden’s conversion putting the Chiefs ahead for the first time.

Cruden landed a further two penalties and Pollard one to push the Chiefs out to a 16-12 lead before the Chiefs stepped up a gear in the last 10 minutes with tries to Damian McKenzie and Atu Moli.

The Chiefs head to South Africa to play the Stormers next week while the Bulls are in Tokyo to play the Sunwolves for the second time in three weeks.

Waikato Chiefs told to shape up for Super Rugby clash with Bulls

March 31, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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The Waikato Chiefs have been told to get their act together for their Super Rugby clash with the Northern Bulls after an unconvincing win over the struggling Melbourne Rebels.

Chiefs

Coach Dave Rennie read the riot act to the two-time champions after they needed a late burst to overcome Australia’s bottom-placed team in their last outing.

“There were some carefully chosen words,” Rennie said, after showing his players images from the Rebels match. “When the guys looked at it, they were pretty embarrassed.”

The Chiefs return from a bye with a record of four wins out of four games so far to lie second in the New Zealand conference behind the Canterbury Crusaders.

The Crusaders will also need to improve after being sent to scrum school following a series of collapses in their recent wins against the Queensland Reds and Western Force.

Despite having a pack bulging with All Blacks, the seven-time champions have been put through a refresher course in scrum techniques ahead of their game against the NSW Waratahs in Sydney.

“We want it to be a contest, and we don’t want re-sets like that,” said assistant forwards coach Jason Ryan.

The Wellington Hurricanes will need to contend with the after-effects of Cyclone Debbie as they take on the Queensland Reds in storm-soaked Brisbane.

As well as the severe weather, the Hurricanes will also have to cope with the loss of captain and All Blacks hooker Dane Coles, who is nursing an injured knee.

Meanwhile the Western Stormers revealed an unusual approach to training ahead of their game against the unfancied Central Cheetahs.

While the Cheetahs may not pose formidable opposition, Stormers coach Robbie Fleck is taking a long-term view and preparing his side as if facing a New Zealand franchise.

A quirk of the draw meant the Stormers did not play a New Zealand side last year until the quarter-finals when thrashed 60-21 by the Chiefs.

They play all five New Zealand teams this year, starting with the Chiefs next weekend, and flyhalf Robert du Preez said preparations were already under way.

“Our training has changed a lot,” Du Preez said. “Every Thursday we do what we call a ‘Kiwi Day’ just to prepare for them because we knew that they pose a different threat.

“We go hard at each other on Thursdays.”

In the congested Africa 2 conference, the Golden Lions play the Coastal Sharks with both sides having one loss from five outings so far.

Argentina’s Jaguares, with a similar record, have a bye and will drop down the ladder as a result.

In Australia, the ACT Brumbies also have a bye leaving the way open for the Waratahs and the Reds to challenge them for the top spot.

The remaining two matches see the Otago Highlanders play the Rebels in Dunedin on Friday, while the Auckland Blues host the Western Force on Saturday.

Perfect Crusaders march on, Jaguares beat Reds

March 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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New Zealand’s Canterbury Crusaders won their fifth-straight game to be one of only three unbeaten teams in this season’s Super Rugby as Argentina’s Jaguares won again this weekend.

Jaguares

The seven-time champion Crusaders whipped the hapless Western Force of Australia 45-17 to stake their claim for this year’s southern hemisphere provincial crown.

Fellow Kiwis Waikato Chiefs and South Africa’s Western Stormers are also yet to lose with the Stormers denying Japan’s Sunwolves 44-31 in Singapore while the Chiefs had a bye.

Across in Buenos Aires the Jaguares won for the fourth time this season, downing Australia’s Queensland Reds 22-8 to lie just one point off the lead held by the Golden Lions in the Africa 2 conference.

The Lions overpowered the endangered Southern Kings 42-19 in an all-South African derby in Port Elizabeth, while the Coastal Sharks won a high-scoring derby 38-30 over the Central Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.

There was little joy for the beleaguered Australian hopes with the ACT Brumbies succumbing to an 18-13 loss at home to New Zealand’s Otago Highlanders, while the NSW Waratahs won a thrilling derby with a last-minute try 32-25 over the Rebels in Melbourne.

In the remaining game, the Blues downed South Africa’s Northern Bulls 38-14 in Auckland, while the defending champions Wellington Hurricanes had a bye.

The Crusaders posted seven tries to two and kept the Force scoreless in the second half to make it five wins from five this season.

It was a lopsided defeat the Force could have done without amid speculation the Perth club faces the axe as governing body SANZAAR look to revamp the dysfunctional competition.

The Stormers survived a​n audacious challenge from the struggling Sunwolves to maintain their unbeaten start, winning a 10-try thriller at Singapore’s national stadium.

Trailing for most of ​what was a high-paced, free-flowing match after being caught out by the Sunwolves’ innovative attack, the South Africans needed all their extra big-match experience to wear down the tournament newcomers, who faded badly in the last quarter of the match.

“The Sunwolves are a smart side and they’re very well coached,” Stormers coach Robbie Fleck said.

“We knew it was going to be tough but they still surprised us with some of the things they did, especially when they kicked in behind us.”

The Jaguares fortunes continue to improve this season with a side-stepping try by winger Ramiro Moyano the highlight of a bruising battle with the Reds.

Democratic Republic of Congo-born Madosh Tambwe scored his first Super Rugby tries as the Lions pounded the Southern Kings.

Tambwe took just four minutes to score, intercepting a pass before collecting a pass on the tryline to dot down for his second try.

Teenager Curwin Bosch proved an outstanding back-up for injured skipper Patrick Lambie, kicking 18 points in the Sharks win over the Cheetahs.

The 19-year-old fly-half slotted four penalties and three conversions from eight attempts and was voted man of the match as the Sharks made it four straight wins since losing the opening game of the season.

Centre David Horwitz scored a try in the final minute to cap a second-half fightback to give the Waratahs a thrilling win over the Rebels.

The Waratahs trailed 25-6 at half-time but squeezed home on the back of four second-half tries to deny the Rebels a prized victory over their better-resourced Australian rivals.

The Highlanders returned to the ground where they knocked the Brumbies out of last season’s quarter-finals to overturn a 10-5 half-time deficit.

Otago’s victory extended Australian teams’ misery against Kiwi opposition this season with New Zealand boasting a 7-0 winning record so far this year.

A second half revival sparked by two Matt Duffie tries gave the Blues a comfortable win over the Bulls.

Hurricanes brace for ‘brutal’ Super Rugby Chiefs derby

March 9, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

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Defending champions Wellington Hurricanes are relishing the prospect of “brutal” clash with the Waikato Chiefs on Friday in what will be their first real test of the Super rugby season.

Hurricanes

“It’s going to be a real scrap,” Hurricanes assistant coach Richard Watt said of the showdown between the only two sides to take maximum points from the first two rounds.

After scoring 24 tries and amassing 154 points against the Sunwolves and Melbourne Rebels, Watt said the Hurricanes were looking forward to the intensity of playing a top New Zealand side.

“The boys love these home games and they hate losing to each other,” he said, describing New Zealand derbies as “pretty brutal” affairs.

“You don’t even have to mention anything to the boys this week. They’re so up for this game.”

The Chiefs, who had to work hard for their wins over the Otago Highlanders and Auckland Blues, have received a boost this week with the return of flanker Sam Cane who will clash with his All Blacks understudy Ardie Savea.

While the battle of the New Zealand titans headlines round three, Hurricanes head coach Chris Boyd has taken a long-term view to tip South Africa’s Golden Lions as the likely winners of the competition.

The unbeaten Lions have sent a depleted squad to Argentina to play the Jaguares in the Africa 2 conference while Africa 1 leaders Western Stormers are away to the bottom-ranked Southern Kings.

The only other unbeaten side after two rounds, the Canterbury Crusaders, travel to Queensland to face the Reds on Saturday.

- Lions favoured -

Boyd believes the complicated Super rugby draw which sees the Lions avoid all the New Zealand sides during the conference phase should see the South Africans top the regular season and be set to host the final.

The Lions, beaten by the Hurricanes in last year’s final, are without five Springboks for their Jaguares match.

It was the banana-skin game for them last year when they were also under strength and lost to the Jaguares in the final pool match, costing them the top spot in the playoffs.

The Stormers should be untroubled in maintaining their unbeaten start to the season when they face the Kings in Port Elizabeth and the Crusaders are expected to be too strong for the Reds in Brisbane.

The test for the Reds, up against an All Blacks-laden pack, is how they bounce back from their surprise loss to the Western Force last week.

“Every player should be highly motivated to compete for every minute of this game. It’s what you have to do against the Crusaders, because if you are not as relentless as they are, you are going to pay,” Reds coach Nick Stiles said.

Two years ago the Otago Highlanders were Super champions but this year they have been hard hit by injuries, are winless after two games and will be hard pressed to get on the board against the Auckland Blues.

Fresh from beating the Reds last week, the Force head to Canberra to play the ACT Brumbies who are trying to avoid a hat-trick of losses for the first time since 2011.

The Waratahs, with Wallaby fly-half Bernard Foley still sidelined by concussion symptoms, are in South Africa against the Coastal Sharks while the Central Cheetahs are at home to the luckless Sunwolves.

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