Super Rugby: Highlanders v Crusaders preview
Last Updated: 22/05/14 9:24am
Crusaders can consolidate their place in the Super Rugby play-offs and overtake the fifth-placed Highlanders when the pair meet in Dunedin on Saturday.
Last year's semi-finalists travel to Forsyth Barr just two points behind Jamie Joseph's Highlanders and could move as high as second should the Waratahs and Brumbies slip on Friday.
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Todd Blackadder will be eager to see his side bounce back after a 30-25 defeat to the league-leading Sharks in the previous round ended a five-match winning streak for the Crusaders.
Similar form - five wins from their last six outings - has seen the Highlanders climb into play-off contention, while they have lost just once in six home fixtures this term.
Saturday's showdown will be the first meeting between the sides this season and the Highlanders will be looking to make amends after losing home and away to the Crusaders last term.
Highlanders fly-half Lima Sopoaga has been included in coach Joseph's starting XV for the visit of the Crusaders.
Sopoaga returns after spending two weeks on the sidelines with an ankle injury and replaces Hayden Parker, who drops down to the bench.
Left wing Patrick Osborne is also back in the run-on side after recovering from an ankle injury, and centre Malakai Fekitoa has been cleared to play after spending the week at an All Blacks training camp in a moon boot.
Meanwhile, Crusaders boss Blackadder has made six changes to the side which lost to the Sharks last weekend.
In the forwards, the All Blacks front row of Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn and Owen Franks move to the bench with Tim Perry, Ben Funnell and Nepo Laulala taking their spots in the run-on side.
In the backs, Andy Ellis will start at scrum-half this weekend and Israel Dagg returns to full-back, which sees Tom Taylor move to centre.
Adam Whitelock has returned from Glasgow where he made his NZ Sevens debut and will be ready to provide some impact off the bench for the Crusaders on Saturday.
Highlanders: 15 B Smith, 14 Buckman, 13 Fekitoa, 12 Treeby, 11 Osborne, 10 Sopoaga, 9 A Smith; 1 Hames, 2 Robinson, 3 King, 4 Hoeata, 5 Wheeler, 6 Dixon, 7 Christie, 8 Manu
Replacements: 16 Anderson-Heather, 17 Diaz, 18 Fia, 19 Franklin, 20 Evans, 21 Tanaka, 22 Parker, 23 Burleigh
Crusaders: 15 Dagg, 14 McNicholl, 13 Taylor, 12 Crotty, 11 Nadolo, 10 Slade, 9 Ellis; 1 Perry, 2 Funnell, 3 Laulala, 4 Bird, 5 S Whitelock, 6 Taufua, 7 McCaw, 8 L Whitelock
Replacements: 16 Flynn, 17 Crockett, 18 Franks, 19 Tupou, 20 G Whitelock, 21 Heinz, 22 A Whitelock, 23 Tuitavake
You can watch the Highlanders take on the Crusaders live on Sky Sports 2HD from 6:35am on Saturday