The latest chapter in the Crusaders-Chiefs rivalry will roar to life in Christchurch on Saturday night, when the two teams battle for a spot in the Super Rugby final. Herald rugby writer Liam Napier looks at the key match-ups that could determine the semifinal.
Richie Mo'unga v Aaron Cruden
Any first five-eighth will tell you their job is infinitely easier when the pack is going forward. With 10 All Blacks in the Crusaders forwards, Mo'unga is blessed in this regard. Still, in the space of two seasons Mo'unga has managed to step into some very large shoes with minimal fuss. No-one thought life would carry on quite this seamlessly when Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor departed. Mo'unga fluffed three kicks off the tee last week - possibly due to the surface water - and will be keen to improve this area.
Possibly the All Blacks playmaker's final appearance for the Chiefs before joining French club Montpellier. Progressing from Manawatu, Cruden followed Dave Rennie to Hamilton and played a leading role in guiding the Chiefs to their first titles in 2012/13. Injuries hampered his ability to nail down the 10 role for the All Blacks but helping the visitors knock over this year's favourites at home would be a real feather in his cap prior to signing off.
Brodie Retallick v Sam Whitelock
Stepping up to assume the Crusaders captaincy this year, Whitelock has thrived with the extra responsibility. Last week against the Highlanders Whitelock's decision-making came to the fore by turning down three shots at goal, two of those being converted into tries from close range. In combination with Kieran Read his ability to apply pressure and rattle the opposition lineout is another valuable asset.
Widely regarded as the world's premier lock, Retallick has again been a force in 2017. Ball in hand, with his long stride and offloading abilities, he is a damaging presence. So, too, defensively where he regularly hits hard. Now accustomed to locking the All Blacks scrum with Whitelock, seeing the duo square off against each other provides but one fascinating subplot to this match. Expect Retallick, known as a niggly competitor, to be in the thick of a few scuffles.
Sam Cane v Matt Todd
Todd has been a consistent campaigner in the Crusaders pack. Those in and around Christchurch often plug for Todd over Cane or Ardie Savea, such are the patriarchal selections made across New Zealand. He was not alone but Todd drew the ire of referee Glen Jackson in the Crusaders' loss to the Hurricanes two weeks ago, and will be keen to avoid falling foul of the same man again. That said, if the Crusaders pack can achieve anywhere near the dominance they enjoyed last week, Todd should be prominent at the breakdown.
Cane Copped a yellow card in the quarter-final victory over the Stormers in Cape Town last week for making contact with the head. While harsh, a similar indiscretion could prove costly against the Crusaders. Cane has evolved into a powerhouse defender; his upper body strength and leg drive claiming regular casualties. With the Crusaders sure to work the pick-and-drive around the fringes, Cane will be called on here to stand up.