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PRE-SEASON PREVIEW: Highlanders v Crusaders

New Zealand’s two south island franchises go rural for their pre-season clash in Waimumu, on the outskirts of Gore.

Form:

Defending champions the Highlanders will be hoping to bounce back from their loss to Racing Metro in Hong Kong, while the Crusaders are in hot form after dispatching the Reds in Ballymore.

Nugget’s back:
All Black halfback Aaron Smith last took to the field in the World Cup final at Twickenham on October 31. The livewire Manawatu product needed a decent break after a busy 2015 and will be hoping he can slot straight back into a Highlanders team looking for back-to-back titles in 2016.



Skipper Sam:
With Kieran Read unavailable until the Crusaders fourth round match against the Kings on March 19, Sam Whitelock has been given the captaincy in Read’s place. The towering lock has plenty of International experience and will lead from the front. He will be hoping to string some pre-season victories together to get the momentum rolling before the start of the season. 



Fijian Flair:
Although not in the starting line-up, Fijian international Ben Volavola is sure to get some game time in this clash. The dynamic pivot showed during the Rugby World Cup that he is capable of carving opposition defences to pieces and possesses an accurate boot. With Dan Carter absent from the Crusaders for the first time in over a decade, much interest will focus on Volavola’s performance during the pre-season.

Fantastic Faddes:
After a breakthrough Mitre 10 Cup season with Otago last year, powerful centre Matt Faddes impressed for the Highlanders in their clash against Racing Metro. The 24-year-old scored two great individual tries before setting up another as the Highlanders pushed Dan Carter’s French club close in Hong Kong. While not a household name yet, Faddes could well be by the end of the Super Rugby season. 



Double trouble:
The Highlanders boast attacking weapons across the park but their wing combination is perhaps the most devastating in Super Rugby. Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne are big, fast and skilful. If they can get a taste for the try line during Super Rugby pre-season it could spell trouble for opposition teams.

Teams:

Highlanders: Matt Faddes, Waisake Naholo, Malakai Fekitoa, Teihorangi Walden, Patrick Osborne, Marty Banks, Josh Renton, Luke Whitelock (captain), James Lentjes, Gareth Evans, Tom Franklin, Mark Reddish, Siosiua Halanukonuka, Liam Coltman, Brendon Edmonds. Reserves: Ash Dixon, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Ross Geldenhuys, Joe Wheeler, Sio Tomkinson, Aaron Smith, Liam Squire, Jason Emery, Ryan Tongia, Lima Sopoaga, Elliot Dixon, Shane Christie, Jackson Hemopo.

Crusaders: David Havili, George Bridge, Sean Wainui, Kieron Fonotia, Sione Fifita, Richie Mo'unga, Andy Ellis, Jordan Taufua, Tim Boys, Jimmy Tupou, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Mike Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ged Robinson, Wyatt Crockett, Oli Jager, Luke Romano, Mitchell Dunshea, Reed Prinsep, Leon Fukofuka, Ben Volavola, Marty McKenzie, Jone Macilai, Mitchell Hunt, Nemani Nadolo.


Kick-off: 5.45pm, Thursday 11 February