Fifth southern derby - and it's do or die

The Highlanders and the Crusaders must be getting sick of the sight of each other.

The two sides will do battle for the fifth time this season when they face off in a Super Rugby quarterfinal in Christchurch on Saturday night, in what is ultimately the game which really matters.

The teams met in a pre-season friendly in Darfield in February, won by the Crusaders, and then clashed twice in the regular season, both narrow victories to the Crusaders.

The sides then faced each other in Timaru on July 6, a friendly fixture to get teams back up to pace during the break for the international test window. The Highlanders won that match easily 33-12.

The South Island franchises would now go into battle for the fifth time at AMI Stadium in Christchurch in a high stakes game.

Highlanders coach Tony Brown said on Friday night he wanted to play the Crusaders in the quarterfinal instead of heading to South Africa and he has got his wish.

Brown and his side should go into the match with plenty of confidence after its 40-17 win over the Reds at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday night.

The Highlanders have no injury concerns and will have the advantage of bringing back All Blacks Ben Smith and Aaron Smith, who were both rested for the game against the Reds.

Utility back Matt Faddes is also expected back from a broken hand he picked up early last month in the match against the Crusaders in Christchurch.

Brown admitted on Friday night the win over the Crusaders in Timaru would not have a lot of relevance to this Saturday night's game.

Both teams will have their All Blacks back and will put everything on the line for the game.

The Crusaders have the home advantage and should have some confidence going into the game, having not lost at home all season, apart from the loss to the British and Irish Lions.

The Crusaders could have avoided a South Island derby if they had beaten the Hurricanes on Saturday night. Although the southern side had a promising start and looked likely at times in Wellington, the Hurricanes came home well and won the game 31-22. The Crusaders gave up their unbeaten record for the season and also gave up the home advantage for the entire playoffs.

The Crusaders will this week welcome back their All Black front row and key lock Sam Whitelock, who did not start in the match against Wellington on Saturday night.

The sides last met in a playoff game way back in 2002, when the Crusaders won 32-24.

Whoever wins the match in Christchurch will take on the winner of the game between the Chiefs and the Stormers.

The Lions took over top spot on the ladder and the all important home advantage in the playoffs by beating the Sharks 27-10 in Durban.

The two sides will meet again this week in the first round of the playoffs, this time in Johannesburg.

The Hurricanes will head to Canberra to take on the Brumbies on Friday night in the first of the quarterfinals.

The Brumbies lost to the Chiefs 28-10 in Hamilton, and the Chiefs head to South Africa, to play the Stormers in Cape Town.

The Stormers beat the Bulls 41-33 in Pretoria yesterday.

In other games over the weekend, the Cheetahs beat the Kings 21-20, the Force beat the Waratahs 40-11, the Sunwolves blew away the Blues 48-21 and the Jaguares beat the Rebels 32-29.

Comments

The biggest worry for the Highlanders must be that the Crusaders are overdue for a sympathetic referee.

Assuming they just get an even-handed one, it should be a great game.