Crusaders result key, come end of season

The Highlanders have won every game at home for the best part of two seasons.
The Highlanders have won every game at home for the best part of two seasons.
Beating the Crusaders is a tough ask.

But the Highlanders, for the sake of their season, simply must win games at home - starting with tonight against the men from across the river.

They have won every game at home for the best part of two seasons and must keep that record intact tonight.

Super Rugby is a reflection of modern sport. The regular season goes on and on for months on end but then it all comes down to the playoffs.

To win in the playoffs, in the chilly months of winter, it is best to be playing at home. Best to be in your own bed and comfortable in your surroundings.

To get an advantage in the New Zealand conference and get that vital home stays at the business end of the season, a side has to win derby games.

Last year, the Highlanders had a 50% record against New Zealand teams - average but ultimately not good enough to gain home advantage when it mattered.

This year the Crusaders and Hurricanes have already pushed ahead of the Highlanders with derby wins.

With the Blues and Chiefs way down the bottom of the table, ultimately, how the season shapes for the Highlanders will be decided by games against the Crusaders and the Hurricanes.

Come up with one win or even two and it is hard to see the Highlanders getting ahead of them in the playoff race. They may get into the playoffs with wins over other sides but the road blocks ahead of them will be too tough to navigate to go further.

So a win tonight is imperative to the team.

It can show the Crusaders they are beatable and have chinks in their armour.

There we go then - words said. But actions are going to get the win tonight.

The Crusaders are a ruthless bunch in everything they do.

Ruthless just comes down to being accurate in all facets of the game and snapping up every chance that comes along.

The Highlanders need to mirror their opposition tonight in precision.

The Crusaders will welcome back lock and skipper Sam Whitelock and he is another boost to an already impressive side.

Limiting turnovers and stop the Crusaders getting quick ball will be the key for the Highlanders.

Whatever happens, the Highlanders must hope to play well against the Crusaders.

The side from Canterbury is playing some top-notch rugby but what has been disappointing from a spectator's point of view has been the poor performances put up against it.

The Hurricanes were miles off the pace a few weeks ago against the Crusaders, while the Chiefs last week looked all at sea and combinations were sadly missing.

The match tonight will be proceeded by the game between the Highlanders Bravehearts and the Crusaders Knights under the roof.

The Bravehearts beat the Knights 43-19 last Saturday in Christchurch and will be looking to do the double. That game kicks off at 5pm.

Highlanders v Crusaders

Forsyth Barr Stadium, Saturday 7:35pm

Highlanders: Ben Smith (co-captain), Waisake Naholo, Sio Tomkinson, Tei Walden, Richard Buckman, Josh Ioane, Aaron Smith, Luke Whitelock (co-captain), James
Lentjes, Shannon Frizell, Jack Whetton, Josh Dickson, Tyrel Lomax, Liam Coltman, Ayden Johnstone. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Siate Tokolahi, Tom Franklin, Elliot Dixon, Dillon Hunt, Folau Fakatava, Marty Banks.
Crusaders: David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Whetu Douglas, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Giorgio Bower. Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Tom Sanders, Ereatara Enari, Brett Cameron, Will Jordan. 
Referee: Brendon Pickerell (North Harbour).

Highlanders Bravehearts v Crusaders Knights

Forsyth Barr Stadium, Saturday 5pm

Bravehearts: Josh McKay, Isaak Te Tamaki, Matt Whaanga, Raymond Nu’u, Tevita Li, Bryn Gatland, Kayne Hammington (captain), Marino Mikaele Tu’u, Slade
McDowall, Dylan Nel, Manaaki Selby-Rickit, Willie Kirkwood, Josh Iosefa-Scott, Ricky Jackson, Sef Fa’agase. Reserves: Masaki Midiorikawa, Ethan De Groot, Hisa Sasagi, Ben Morris, Hame Toma, James Arscott, Mitchell Scott, Yong Hwi Kim, Tatsuya Hamona.
Knights: Jamie Spowart, Sevu Reece, Tuli Paea, Inga Finau, Junior Ratuva, Tim Bateman, Mitchell Drummond, Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Billy Harmon, Michael Curry, Will Tucker, Oliver Jager, Ben Funnell, Isi Tu’ungafasi. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Chris Gawler, Sam Matenga, Josh Bokser, Hugh Renton, Connor
McManus, Alex Harford, Zach McKay. 

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