We've had some A-grade entertainment from high-wire trick-cyclist Beauden Barrett to fan our Super Rugby interest but a month without an all-Kiwi duel is like carless days or toothache. It's painful.

The last domestic combat was on April 15 when the Hurricanes came to Eden Park and edged out the Blues in a seven-try thriller.

Since then we've had three rounds without any New Zealand derbies as the unbeaten Crusaders still top the conference with the Chiefs and Canes tagging behind with one loss each. There is a sting in the tail of the tournament with the Crusaders to play both chasing sides, home and away.

Christchurch is the scene for the first of those skirmishes tomorrow when the Caneswill try to interrupt the Crusaders' winning sequence.


There is a broad skeleton about whether the Crusaders pack or the Canes backline can wrestle the advantage but this match will have much more detail and levels of intrigue. Neither side is at full strength but they have to deal with these issues throughout a campaign.

The Crusaders have returned from a trip to Africa and while Super Rugby players are used to those demands, it will take an edge from their preparation and time back on the training ground. They are familiar though with AMI Stadium and how any anticipated patchy weather affects play there.

Captain Sam Whitelock (suspended) and Kieran Read (injured) are heavyweight absences for the Crusaders but they have locking depth with All Blacks Luke Romano and Scott Barrett and have played without Read for the bulk of this campaign. The Canes are again without skipper Dane Coles but Ricky Riccitelli has been an ace backup hooker and TJ Perenara is commanding a strong group.

There's little doubt the Crusaders will have the edge in scrum power with a test tight five but that only goes so far because the advantage law is used extensively and those contests are reduced and referees are quick to ask sides to use possession.

Lineouts and breakdowns will be more uncertain areas. The Crusaders will look to double-team throws from Riccitelli or force the Hurricanes to go to No8 Brad Shields or Ardie Savea which would remove them from the next plays.

Savea and Matt Todd are high-quality opensiders who will turn over vulnerable ball and work hard to convince referee Jaco Peyper they had all rights to possession.

He's an experienced referee but has not seemed to be as accurate or convincing in his recent judgements. He will get plenty of advice from both sides and needs his assistants to be on the mark.

The Hurricanes have a slight lead in tries differential but both are well clear of the next-best Chiefs and have six bonus points each to reinforce the interest in trying to split these teams. Perenara and Barrett lead an inventive backline where Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso have been a midfield boon backed by the clues of Julian Savea, Cory Jane and Jordie Barrett's brimming excellence.

In past seasons the Crusaders have been an awkward backline, relying too much on Nemani Nadolo but they have gathered some bright new talent directed by a capable Richie Mo'unga and found a better balance to their work. Goal-kicking under pressure between Mo'unga and Barrett the younger will be another charcoal in the furnace.

Up high in the coaches box Chris Boyd has been through this sort of strain with a finals loss then last year's crown while Scott Robertson is unbeaten in his first year coaching at this level.