Super Rugby: Crusaders v Sharks match preview
Last Updated: 15/05/14 11:08am
The Crusaders host table-toppers the Sharks at the AAMI Stadium on Saturday looking to make it six Super Rugby wins in a row.
Todd Blackadder's side have won five games on the bounce - the latest a 57-29 demolition of the Reds - to move into the wildcard placings in the table.
Opponents the Sharks are aiming to get back to winning ways after a 16-9 defeat to the Brumbies last time.
Blackadder has made three changes to the team that beat the Reds last weekend, with Dominic Bird coming in at lock after Luke Romano broke his ankle in last week's match.
Half-backs Willi Heinz and Andy Ellis have rotated again, with Heinz taking the starting spot for his 50th Crusaders game, while the final change to the starting side is at full-back, where Tom Taylor will step into the fold in place of Israel Dagg.
Blackadder told the franchise's official website: "Leaving Izzy out of the mix this week is purely preventative. We've been really happy with the way he's been playing, but there are some early signs of wear and tear and we just want to make sure that we manage that so that he can continue to play at his best."
Regular captain Kieran Read will again be missing and Blackadder said he was ruled out of contention early in the week rather than pressuring him to be ready to play with little time to prepare.
"Kieran was still showing some really minor signs of concussion at the start of the week and, given that it's been a short week for us to prepare anyway due to a late flight back from Brisbane, we decided the sensible thing to do was to make the call early that he wouldn't be available.
"He hasn't been able to fully participate in contact training for a little while so we're better off giving him more space and time to get back to 100 percent."
For the Sharks, Director of Rugby Jake White has made five changes - three personal changes and two positional switches - compared to the side that lost to the Brumbies last week.
After playing at lock in recent weeks, Willem Alberts reverts back to the loose-forwards, starting at number eight, while Tera Mtembu gets a start at flank, meaning Ryan Kankowski and Keegan Daniel drop to the bench.
Etienne Oosthuizen comes into the second row, while Jannie du Plessis and Tendai Mtawarira will win their 100th caps in an unchanged front row.
SP Marais returns to the starting line-up at full-back meaning Lwazi Mvovo moves to the wing ahead of Odwa Ndungane in the only change amongst the backline personnel.
"I think that records are there to be broken. To be fair, the Crusaders have lost two games at home this season, it's not impossible but we need to make sure we're up for it," said White.
"The Crusaders are a good side, let's not forget they're an All Black laden side and they're a team that always hit their straps around this time of year. So it is a difficult time to play them at a time in the season when they are on a high. In saying that, it's not mission impossible, we have to believe we have a chance and we've got to make sure we give it a crack."
Crusaders: 15 Taylor, 14 McNicholl, 13 Lee-Lo, 12 Crotty (c), 11 Nadolo, 10 Slade, 9 Heinz; 1 Crockett, 2 Flynn, 3 Franks, 4 Bird, 5 S Whitelock , 6 Taufua , 7 McCaw, 8 L Whitelock.
Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Perry, 18 Laulala, 19 Tupou, 20 G Whitelock , 21 Ellis / Heinz, 22 Bleyendaal, 23 Tuitavake.
Sharks:15 Marais, 14 Pietersen, 13 Sithole, 12 Jordaan, 11 Mvovo, 10 Steyn, 9 Reinach; 1 Mtawarira, 2 B du Plessis (c), 3 J du Plessis, 4 Oosthuizen, 5 Lewies, 6 Mtembu, 7 Deysel, 8 Alberts.
Replacements:16 Cooper, 17 Chadwick, 18 Adriaanse, 19 Kankowski, 20 Daniel, 21 McLeod, 22 Swiel, 23 Williams.
Don't miss any of the action on Saturday as the Crusaders host the Sharks live on Sky Sports 4HD from 8.30am.