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    Chiefs bench Cruden for key Crusaders clash

    2016-06-30 08:34

    Wellington - Chiefs have chosen folk-hero Stephen Donald over Aaron Cruden as playmaker in their battle for Super Rugby supremacy against Crusaders in Friday's historic match in Fiji.

    Cruden may have been the All Blacks starting flyhalf in the first two Tests against Wales, but the Chiefs selectors were swayed by the way 2011 World Cup winner Donald led the side to a 40-7 demolition of the tourists.

    It is a crucial match for the Chiefs and Crusaders with the showdown between the New Zealand heavyweights likely to determine who gets the top ranking and vital home-ground advantage going into the playoffs.

    Crusaders currently lead the competition with 45 points, three more than the Chiefs who are the next best-performing side but are ranked fifth under a system that gives the top four slots to the four conference winners.

    South Africa's Golden Lions, also on 42 points, host Coastal Sharks (35), Africa 1 conference leaders Western Stormers (36) play the Rebels in Melbourne while top Australian side Brumbies (34) are at home to Queensland Reds.

    The Suva showdown is billed as a home game for the Chiefs who have opted to host the first Super Rugby match in Fiji to acknowledge the significant contribution Fijian players have made to New Zealand's rugby heritage.

    Although Cruden injured his neck in the second Test against Wales and did not play in the third last weekend, Chiefs assistant coach Neil Barnes said that did not influence the selection.

    "Aaron is ready to play (but) we've put three weeks hard work into this game and Stephen's been right across it, driving training the whole time," Barnes said.

    "Going on his form in the Welsh game, which we thought was pretty good, we thought we'd give him the opportunity to go out there and run the game for us."

    Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane are the only members of Chiefs' current crop of seven All Blacks who will start, while Crusaders have decided not to hold back.

    Six of their All Blacks who had game time against Wales, including captain Kieran Read, will start with a seventh, prop Joe Moody, among the replacements.

    The Lions, who have opened up a seven-point lead over the Sharks in the Africa 2 conference, have lost skipper Warren Whitely for up to six weeks following a shoulder injury sustained during the Springbok Test series against Ireland.

    Sharks are also motivated for the Johannesburg clash as they are striving to stay ahead of Northern Bulls in the race for a wildcard entry to the play-offs, but captain Beast Mtawarira said toppling the Lions will not be easy.

    "We have the underdog tag this week and we're going to have to fight hard," he said.

    The Bulls, only three points adrift of the Sharks, have what should be an easier assignment against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires.

    A win in Argentina will have the Bulls in line to take over the Africa 2 conference should the Stormers - with Schalk Burger taking over the captaincy from co-skippers Juan de Jongh (on sevens duty) and Frans Malherbe (neck injury) - fall to the Rebels.

    The Brumbies, who lead the Australian conference only on points differential, meet the Reds for the first and only time this year.

    With Ben Hyne making his Super debut in place of David Pocock, Brumbies need maximum points to be assured of staying above the NSW Waratahs, also on 34 points, who face the struggling Sunwolves in Tokyo.

    In other matches, Hurricanes face Blues, Cheetahs are at home in Bloemfontein to Force and Highlanders are away to Southern Kings.

    Teams:

    Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Seta Tamanivalu, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 James Lowe, 10 Stephen Donald, 9 Brad Weber, 8 Tom Sanders, 7 Sam Cane (cc), 6 Taleni Seu, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Hiroshi Yamashita, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Kane Hames

    Substitutes: 16 Nathan Harris, 17 Siegfried Fisi’ihoi, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Mitchell Brown, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 22 Aaron Cruden, 23 Sam McNicol

    Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett

    Substitutes: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Sean Wainui

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    Fixtures

    Saturday, 17 February 2018
    • Stormers v Jaguares, Cape Town 15:05
    • Lions v Sharks, Emirates Airlines Park 17:15
    Friday, 23 February 2018
    • Highlanders v Blues, 08:35
    • Rebels v Reds, AAMI Park 10:45
    Saturday, 24 February 2018
    • Sunwolves v Brumbies, Prince Chichibu Memorial Stadium 06:15
    • Crusaders v Chiefs, 08:35
    • Waratahs v Stormers, Allianz Stadium 10:45
    • Lions v Jaguares, Emirates Airlines Park 15:05
    • Bulls v Hurricanes, Loftus Versfeld 17:15

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