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Crusaders face dangerous Highlanders

Published: 12:04PM Saturday March 03, 2012 Source: ONE Sport

Highlanders v Crusaders at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, 7.35pm

Head to head: Played 20, Highlanders seven, Crusaders 13.
Last clash: Highlanders 26-18.
TAB odds: Highlanders $2.90, Crusaders $1.37.

The Crusaders travel to Dunedin well aware of the dangers the Highlanders pose after being upset in the corresponding clash in April last year.

Add to that the emotions surrounding the news that the Otago rugby union is in financial ruin and the confidence gained from a first-round 23-19 win over the Chiefs in Hamilton, and it is clear the country's southern-most franchise will be steeled for another big performance.

The Crusaders have stability in their side, with Ryan Crotty's hamstring injury-enforced layoff the only change to the team which hung on to beat the Blues at Eden Park last Friday.

Adam Whitelock moves in from the bench to fill that breach while All Black Zac Guildford is added to the reserves having completed his four-match suspension from the end of last year.

The Highlanders have had to reconfigure their inside backs with Aaron Smith replacing the out-of-sorts Jimmy Cowan at halfback and Lima Sopoaga filling in at number 10 for the injured Chris Noakes.

All Black Colin Slade also returns to rugby to take a seat on the Highlanders bench while the rest of their side remains unchanged from the one that emerged victorious in the Waikato.

Any contest against the Crusaders means strong competition at the breakdown, ensuring Highlanders' blindside flanker Adam Thompson will be vital to his sides chances of matching the likes of Matt Todd and Kieran Read in the loose.

Highlander's midfielder Tamati Ellison will want to continue his fine first-up form from last weekend and will be better with that run under his belt after returning from Japan less than a week before the opening round of the competition.

Scan through their team sheet however and it's clear the Crusaders have class right across the park, starting up front with hard-working prop Wyatt Crockett and outstanding lock Sam Whitelock, while they are again joined by All Blacks' halfback Andy Ellis, and Robbie Fruean and Israel Dagg being the main dangers out wide.

Tip: Crusaders by 9 points

Highlanders: Ben Smith, Buxton Popoali'i, Tamati Ellison, Phil Burleigh, Hosea Gear, Lima Sopoaga, Aaron Smith, Nasi Manu, John Hardie, Adam Thomson, Nick Crosswell, Josh Bekhuis, Chris King, Andrew Hore, Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Reserves: Jason Rutledge, Bronson Murray, Culum Retallick, James Haskell, Jimmy Cowan, Colin Slade, Telusa Veainu.

Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock, Tom Donnelly, Ben Franks, Quentin MacDonald, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Luke Romano, Luke Whitelock, Willie Heinz, Zac Guildford, Adam Whitelock.