Preview: Crusaders v Reds

The Reds return to a venue where they were embarrassed by the Crusaders last year as they look to cause a shock in Christchurch on Friday.

It will be almost a year to the day that the Crusaders cruised past the Brisbane outfit 58-17 and the Reds will be desperate to avoid any repeat of that scoreline this week, even if they do arrive missing their best player so far this season due to injury, centre Samu Kerevi.

A silver lining for the Reds however is the fact that the Crusaders are without the suspended Nemani Nadolo and the fact they will arrive in Christchurch on the back of a home win over the Cheetahs – one feels the former will come as a greater boost to their hopes of an upset.

We aren't expecting an away victory, let's put that out there now as the Crusaders – fresh off a bye week – will have too much quality in their side. Factor in a chance to move provisionally top of the Super Rugby standings, above the Chiefs, and they will be a driven bunch.

Currently the Crusaders are five points off the pace-setters while the Reds are surely already playing for next year, of which there's no shame after a rocky early-season. Now under Matt O'Connor and Nick Stiles, this young group can build foundations to move forward in 2017.

Despite being 23, Nick Frisby is worthy of being a senior player and if he can build a decent partnership with fly-half Jake McIntyre, 22, while a spine that includes James Slipper, Andrew Ready, Rob Simmons and Liam Gill adds solidity, the future can be bright in Queensland.

The Crusaders meanwhile have shown what is possible when veterans depart and few would have predicted them to be in such a strong position after Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Colin Slade and others moved on. Could head coach Todd Blackadder be about to say goodbye with the trophy?

Talk of silverware of course will not be discussed in the Crusaders camp just yet but they do have the pack and qualities out wide in the form of Nadolo and Israel Dagg, with their only concern being the goalkicking of fly-half Richie Mo'unga. At this stage though, that is only a minor worry and a skill he should be able to practice on Friday in what promises to be a positive day at the office for his team.

The last time these teams met: It was a drilling for the Reds in Christchurch last year as they went down to a 58-17 defeat. Eight tries were scored in all by the Crusaders with the pick of the bunch coming from second-row Sam Whitelock as he went over from all of 60 metres. Other scorers that day were Andy Ellis, Colin Slade, Nemani Nadolo (2), Matt Todd, Jone Macilai and Dominic Bird in a one-sided encounter.

Players to watch: He was excellent against the Jaguares and Israel Dagg will hope to continue that form this week ahead of the June Tests. Not having the lethal finisher that is Nemani Nadolo outside him, Dagg might find the Reds can focus more of their defence on him. But we expect the All Black to still create for his team-mates, with the impressive Scott Barrett also one to watch alongside lock Sam Whitelock.

He scored a brace last week and has been a driving force in this side for some time now. We are talking about scrum-half Nick Frisby who, on his 50th appearance, will be desperate for a strong team performance. A willing runner, good distributor and intelligent number nine.

Team news: Five changes have been made to the Crusaders starting line-up as Johnny McNicholl comes into the run-on side on the wing. Their only other change amongst the backs sees Mitchell Drummond taking over from Andy Ellis at scrum-half. Up front Sam Whitelock replaces Luke Romano at lock while Mike Alaalatoa comes in for Owen Franks at tighthead prop and Wyatt Crockett is preferred to Joe Moody at loosehead.

The Reds have made two changes to their starting side for the match, with Queensland U20s standout Campbell Magnay brought in for injured centre Samu Kerevi (hand) and Chris Feauai-Sautia recovering from an ankle injury to resume his place on the wing ahead of Junior Laloifi.

Form: The Crusaders are enjoying an impressive seven-game winning streak in Super Rugby, their latest victory coming away to the Brumbies. Meanwhile, the Reds won their most recent match, against the Cheetahs in Brisbane, but lost their two previous fixtures in South Africa.

Prediction: It's hard to see anything other than a home victory as the Reds will sorely miss their strike runner in Kerevi. Crusaders by 20 points.

Previous results:

2015: Crusaders won 58-17 in Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 57-29 in Brisbane
2013: Crusaders won 38-9 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 15-11 in Christchurch
2011: Reds won 18-13 in Brisbane
2011: Reds won 17-16 in Brisbane
2010: Reds won 41-20 in Brisbane
2009: Crusaders won 32-12 in Christchurch

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Jone Macilai, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Mike Alaalatoa, 2 Codie Taylor,1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Owen Franks, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Ryan Crotty, 23 Marty McKenzie

Reds: 15 Karmichael Hunt, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Campbell Magnay, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 Eto Nabuli, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Nick Frisby, 8 Curtis Browning, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Hendrik Tui, 5 Rob Simmons, 4 Ben Matwijow, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 James Slipper (c)
Replacements: 16 Saia Fainga’a, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Cadeyrn Neville, 20 Michael Gunn, 21 James Tuttle, 22 Sam Greene, 23 Junior Laloifi

Date: Friday, May 6
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Kane McBride
TMO: Chris Wratt