Preview: Crusaders vs Highlanders


Round four of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa first match is the ‘Battle of the South’ from Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday 09:05 SA time when unbeaten Crusaders face the Highlanders. It has been more than two years since these teams last clashed under the roof in Dunedin. On that day, it was the Highlanders who came out on top with a thrilling 25-17 win. The Highlanders have made Forsyth Barr Stadium a real fortress over the last decade and will be hoping their passionate home fans will be able to lift them to another famous victory on Saturday night.

The Crusaders are unbeaten after two games with contrasting victories under their belts. They were in vintage form against the Hurricanes in round two with a bonus point 39-25 win in Wellington. The conditions weren’t on their side in round three as they held on for an 18-13 win over the Chiefs in the Christchurch wet. The Highlanders opened their campaign with a last gasp win over the Chiefs before falling short against the Blues at Eden Park last week.

Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made five changes to the starting side and one positional change. Will Jordan moves to the right-wing this week to make way for Vice-Captain, David Havili, to slot in at fullback. Further changes at the back see Mitch Drummond start at scrumhalf and Leicester Faingaanuku on the left-wing as Bryn Hall and George Bridge will be rested.

The tight five remains unchanged for this game, while there are two changes in the loose forwards. Cullen Grace underwent surgery on Tuesday for a fracture at the base of his right thumb, which sees Ethan Blackadder start in his place. 22 -year-old Tom Christie also earns a start this week, for Billy Harmon at openside flanker.

Fetuli Paea should make his debut from the bench. Also included in the reserves is Oli Jager, who was a late withdrawal from the side last week with a back complaint and is now fully fit to return to the 23. Following their successful return from injury to play club rugby last week, Andrew Makalio and Quinten Strange have both been named in the reserves for the first time in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa, and make a welcome return to face the Highlanders.

Crusaders: 15. David Havili (VC), 14. Will Jordan, 13. Braydon Ennor, 12. Jack Goodhue, 11. Leicester Faingaanuku, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 9. Mitchell Drummond, 8. Whetukamokamo Douglas (VC), 7. Tom Christie, 6. Ethan Blackadder, 5. Mitchell Dunshea, 4. Samuel Whitelock, 3. Michael Alaalatoa, 2. Codie Taylor (C), 1. Joe Moody. Replacements: 16. Andrew Makalio, 17. George Bower, 18. Oliver Jager, 19. Quinten Strange, 20. Sione Havili, 21. Ereatara Enari, 22. Fetuli Paea, 23. Sevu Reece.

The Hurricanes have three players that are unavailable due to injury, Nathan Vella (concussion), Nehe Milner-Skudder (shoulder), Josh Ioane (quad), while another six players suffered season-ending injuries, Sione Misiloi (foot), Thomas Umaga-Jensen (shoulder), James Lentjes (ankle), Tevita Nabura (back), Conor Garden-Bachop (back), Sam Gilbert (knee).
Impressive rookie winger, Sam Gilbert, who sustained a season-ending knee injury has been replaced by Ngatungane Punivai on the right-wing and the experienced Michael Collins will play at fullback.

Elsewhere, lock Jack Whetton will get an opportunity off the bench and the mercurial Vilimoni Koroi will cover the back three. The team will be co-captained by Aaron Smith and Ash Dixon.

In the forwards, a strong Crusaders scrum will be met by a new starting front row of Daniel Lienert-Brown, Liam Coltman and Jeff Thwaites.
“Michael Collins is a great communicator, reads a game well and will organise the back three,” said Highlanders assistant coach, Tony Brown.

“We are fortunate to have some depth in our front row so we can make changes, this is a tough competition and as always the Crusaders will present a real challenge on Saturday night,” said forwards coach, Clarke Dermody.

Highlanders: 15. Michael Collins, 14. Ngatungane Punivai, 13. Rob Thompson, 12. Patelesio Tomkinson, 11. Jona Nareki, 10. Mitch Hunt, 9. Aaron Smith (CC), 8. Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7. Dillon Hunt, 6. Shannon Frizell, 5. Josh Dickson, 4. Paripari Parkinson, 3. Jeff Thwaites, 2. Liam Coltman, 1. Daniel Lienert-Brown. Replacements: 16. Ash Dixon(CC), 17. Ayden Johnstone, 18. Siate Tokolahi, 19. Jack Whetton, 20. Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21. Kayne Hammington, 22. Bryn Gatland, 23. Vilimoni Koroi.

Opta Facts
The Crusaders have won seven of their last eight completed Super Rugby matches against the Highlanders, including their last four on the bounce across which they have scored 40 points per game.

The Highlanders have won two of their last three completed Super Rugby matches against the Crusaders as hosts on the day, including their most recent meeting in Round 5, 2018 – they haven’t enjoyed back-to-back wins in such fixtures since 19971999.

The Crusaders have won 11 of their last 12 Super Rugby matches, conceding just 7.2 first-half points per game in that stretch.

The Highlanders (27/28 – 96.4%) are the only team in Super Rugby Aotearoa with a lineout success rate above 90%; no team has won fewer on their own throw than the Crusaders (23).

Crusaders’ pair Jack Goodhue (22/22) and Whetu Douglas (19/19) have made the most and second most tackles respectively of all players yet to miss a single attempt in Super Rugby Aotearoa.