Key Crusader, Kieran Read, returns after six weeks . Image courtesy of: AAP
Crusaders v Force
AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Friday May 30 – 5:35 Pm (AEST)
The return of Kieran Read is bad timing for the Western Force . The inspirational Crusaders skipper seems to lift his team every time he steps onto the field. He adds that level-headedness and composure which has been missing at times for the men from Christchurch. The Force need to contain not only Read, but Israel Dagg as well. He's been in sensational form over the past month.
The Crusaders had a tough game last week. Two years ago, they would have crushed the Highlanders in spectacular fashion. But the men from the bottom of New Zealand are playing better than anyone can remember. After the 32-30 victory in Dunedin, the Crusaders head into Friday's clash with bruised bodies, but high spirits. Coach Todd Blackadder has remained loyal to the front row of Tim Perry, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala after their dominant performance against the Highlanders. This means All Black trio of Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Owen Franks remain on the pine. Read claims back his No.8 jersey.
The Force got one back against the South African Conference. After losing to the Stormers two weeks ago, they came out firing, beating the Lions 29-19 in Melbourne. But they shouldn't get too comfortable. There is a big difference between the bottom ranked Lions and the Crusaders, the New Zealand Conference leaders. They need to step-up another level if they are any hope of toppling the Kiwi powerhouse. Captain Matt Hodgson has easily been the Force's best player, earning him a Wallabies call-up for the Test against France. The return of Brynard Stander to the starting side pushes Ben McCalman out of the squad and Angus Cottrell to No. 8. Pat Dellit comes off the pine to replace Luke Burton (dropped) and Dillyn Leyds comes onto the bench.
This will be a battle of the flankers. Hodgson up against Richie McCaw is mouth-watering. But the return of Read will be too much for the Force to contain.
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