By Lesleigh Mudaly, Rugby World Web Editor
THOSE OF you suffering rugby withdrawal symptoms, needworry no more as conference-topping Chiefs take on the Crusaders in Hamilton tomorrow, in a Super Rugby semi-final derby crunch match that’s sure to set pulses racing.
In Christchurch last week the Crusaders effortlessly brushed aside the Bulls (28-13) to set up their 11th successive semi-final. Both teams have notched up an away win against each other in the regular season, but this one matters the most. It’s the two teams have met in the semi-finals and the Crusaders are looking to make it to final number ten.
The Chiefs, will hope their smooth form in the regular season, which saw them finish second overall, can silence the title-rich southerners and claim a spot in next week’s final. This season the Hamilton-based franchise have finally delivered consistent performances with six straight wins at home, much to the delight of their dynamic coaching duo, Dave Rennie and Wayne Smith.
If history is anything to go by, the Chiefs will need to step up another gear because the seven-time champions Crusaders have won eight out of nine play-off fixtures against their fellow countrymen, the 2003 defeat to the Blues being the only black mark on their impressive record.
The Chiefs have been able to field a full-strength team, including top their try-scorer Sona Taumalolo, who alongside the impressive Ben Tameifuna will be a big threat to the Crusaders’ Crockett/Franks duo. In the backs both teams have a deadly 10-12 combination, and it will be interesting to whether Aaron Cruden has what it takes to dethrone King Carter.
Picking a winner will not be down to stats but to who is more determined, and one thing’s for sure, you won’t want to miss this game!
Verdict: Chiefs by three.
Chiefs v Crusaders
Friday 27 July 2012, at Waikato Stadium [Hamilton]
Kick-off: 08:35 BST
Live on Sky Sports 4
2012: Crusaders won 28-21, Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 24-19, Napier
2011: Crusaders won 25-19, Napier
2011: Crusaders won 34-16, Tauranga
2010: Crusaders won 26-19, Hamilton
Chiefs Starting XV:
15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Andrew Horrell, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 1 Sona Taumalolo, 2 Mahonri Schwalger, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 5 Brodie Retallick, 6 Liam Messam, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 8 Kane Thompson
16 Hika Elliot, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Brendon Leonard, 21 Jackson Willison, 22 Lelia Masaga.
Crusaders Starting XV:
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 1 Wyatt Crockett, 2 Corey Flynn, 3 Ben Franks, 4 Luke Romano, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 6 George Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 8 Richie McCaw [C]
16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tom Taylor, 22 Sean Maitland.