Chiefs, Crusaders meet in key Super Rugby match
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — More than 20 All Blacks will be mobilized when the Chiefs face the Crusaders in a Super Rugby tussle for top spot in the New Zealand conference on Friday.
The Crusaders have added five All Blacks, including interim New Zealand captain Kieran Read, to their lineup for the 19th-round match at Christchurch which they must win with a bonus point to challenge the pre-eminence of the Super Rugby champions.
Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has named man-mountain Ben Tameifuna to anchor the scrum as they confront a Crusaders pack which includes seven current or former All Blacks.
“Obviously we’ve chopped and changed a lot throughout the year to create competition and due to injuries some of that was forced on us,” Rennie said. “But now we’re pretty much looking to put our best side on the track, based on how we’re going to play and who we’re going to play.”
The Chiefs lead the conference by 10 points from the Crusaders and need only a point from their last two regular season matches to seal top place and take home advantage into the playoffs.
The Crusaders need to take five points from Friday’s match on their home ground and from their last regular season match against the Wellington-based Hurricanes to have any chance to grabbing top spot.
They also need wins in at least one of those matches to defend their current fifth placing on the overall championships ladder and to clinch their place in the top-six playoffs which begin on July 19.
The Pretoria-based Bulls have already clinched first place in South Africa, establishing a 13-point lead over the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs with two regular season rounds remaining.
The Bulls face the Durban-based Sharks on Saturday and the Cape Town Stormers in the last regular season match.
Springboks flyhalf Morne Steyn will return to the Bulls’ lineup, which has lost center Wynand Olivier and prop Juandre Kruger to French clubs, adding a late wrinkle to their campaign.
“We have had a lot of disruptions since the squad returned (from June test matches) and injuries to the likes of Pierre (Spies), Arno (Botha), Louis (Fouche) and the departures of Wynand and Juandre certainly did not make life easier for us,” coach Frans Ludeke said. “Fortunately we have always backed the depth of our squad and that is bearing fruit.
“We will face a Sharks team that will be desperate, as they need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. But we also have goals to achieve and to get there, we need to keep on winning.”
The Cheetahs host the Auckland-based Blues on Saturday, needing to recover from last weekend’s 28-3 loss to the Stormers to restore their challenge for a playoffs place. That shock loss left the Cheetahs in sixth place, clinging to playoffs contention and needing to beat the Blues to ensure their most successful season continues into the post-season rounds.
The Cheetahs have a bye next weekend, ensuring they will take at least four points from that round but placing them under pressure to take a win and a bonus point on Saturday to maximize the number of points they can achieve from their last two regular season rounds.
The Blues enter the match in eighth place, two points outside the top six and with their playoffs hopes hanging by a thread. They will need to beat the Cheetahs, then return home to beat the Chiefs six days later to have any chance of finishing among the top six.
Australian teams remain inactive this weekend because of the final test between the Wallabies and the British and Irish Lions.