Rugby: Hosts' hunger alarm bell for Crusaders

The Highlanders smashed the Blues earlier in the month.  Photo / Getty Images
The Highlanders smashed the Blues earlier in the month. Photo / Getty Images

The news last night that more than 4000 extra seats have been made available for tonight's Highlanders match against the Crusaders in Dunedin should add to the alarm bells ringing in the visitors' camp.

The Highlanders will fancy this match, and so, clearly, do their supporters. An extra stand at Forsyth Barr Stadium has been opened - one of the end stands is usually closed during university holidays - such is the demand for the final home game of a wretched season for Jamie Joseph's men. Ticket sales have reached 17,000, with the additional seating bringing capacity to 22,600.

Key to the quiet confidence likely to be circulating among the Highlanders is the forward pack which Todd Blackadder has named for the Crusaders. The front row of Joe Moody, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala will not worry the likes of Tony Woodcock, Andrew Hore and Ma'afu Fia.

In fact, it may have provoked a feeling akin to a delicious sense of anticipation.

Tough nuts Woodcock and Hore will be going all out to intimidate the youngsters opposite them, the oldest of whom is 24-year-old Moody.

Returning All Blacks loosehead Wyatt Crockett has been named on the reserves bench, along with No 8 Kieran Read and lock Luke Romano.

Brad Thorn and Josh Bekhuis, the Highlanders locks, will feel they have a point or two to prove against their Crusaders counterparts Sam Whitelock and Tom Donnelly.

Experienced hooker Corey Flynn is also on the bench for the Crusaders.

Although two of Joseph's returning All Blacks Aaron Smith and Ma'a Nonu also have bench roles to start with, it is the inexperience of the Crusaders' forwards which could cause Blackadder's men the most problems.

Crockett, Read and Romano have had big workloads over the past three weeks against the French and Blackadder has to juggle their return with the knowledge his men face two massive matches over the next two weeks in the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Christchurch. A place in the top six is at stake.

The danger is that the Highlanders will use Blackadder's selections as motivation - a sign of disrespect - and we saw a month ago against the Blues how they can perform when they are firing. They smashed Sir John Kirwan's men all around the park that night, putting the game almost beyond doubt at halftime 29-7 before winning 38-28.

No amount of halftime substitutions could have saved the Blues that night. Playing for something tangible in the Gordon Hunter Trophy clearly helped to do the trick, and, if they can reach similar heights tonight, there may be no way back for the Crusaders, even if they do have Dan Carter and Israel Dagg in the backline.

The Crusaders will start the match having already conceded a physical and mental advantage to a team who know they have only two matches to play after this.

Highlanders v Crusaders

Dunedin, 7.35 tonight

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Kade Poki, Tamati Ellison, Shaun Treeby, Hosea Gear, Colin Slade, Fumiaki Tanaka, Mose Tuiali'i, Elliot Dixon, Jarrad Hoeata, Josh Bekhuis, Brad Thorn, Ma'afu Fia, Andrew Hore (c), Tony Woodcock
Reserves: Liam Coltman, Bronson Murray, Jake Paringatai, T.J. Ioane, Aaron Smith, Lima Sopoaga, Ma'a Nonu

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Tom Donnelly, Nepo Laulala, Ben Funnell, Joe Moody
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett, Luke Romano, Kieran Read, Willi Heinz, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock

- APNZ

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