Daniel Richardson is a Wellington-based sports journalist for NZME. News Service.

Rugby: Crusaders contest pivotal for Canes

Alapati Leiua of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images
Alapati Leiua of the Hurricanes. Photo / Getty Images

The Hurricanes have beaten the Crusaders in three of the past five meetings and each time the winning points have come in the final 10 minutes.

A superb solo effort from Alapati Leiua helped the Hurricanes to a 29-26 triumph in round seven this year, while the Samoan international also scored a crucial intercept try, which was converted by Beauden Barrett, for last season's 29-28 win. A 74th-minute Barrett penalty gave the Hurricanes a 23-22 victory in 2012.

Such thrilling matches have set the stage for tonight's contest in the capital, which will all but decide the fate of the Hurricanes' season.

Lose and they can start thinking about next year under a new coach but victory will see the sixth-placed Hurricanes keep their playoff hopes alive.

Cardiff-bound Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett also considered whether those fast finishes from his men had forced the Crusaders to name No 8 Kieran Read and returning first-five Dan Carter on the bench for tonight's game so they have something in reserve.

"Certainly where we've gone well in the past against them is at the back end," Hammett said.

The greater likelihood is Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder playing it safe with Read, who has been limited by head knocks this year, while Carter will be rusty after his six-month holiday and a limited diet of club rugby.

After a three-week break, Super Rugby is now heating up and the New Zealand conference-leading Crusaders can go a long way to confirming their spot in the finals with a win tonight.

Blackadder has also left prop Owen Franks on the bench, which is probably because of his heavy workload with the All Blacks in recent weeks and the same logic was applied by Hammett in starting openside flanker Ardie Savea ahead of Samoan international Jack Lam.

The Hurricanes will be without centre Conrad Smith who has a broken thumb and lock Jeremy Thrush will captain the side.

- NZ Herald

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