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Super Rugby preview: Crusaders host Western Force in Christchurch
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Western Force travel to Christchurch on Friday in a bid to overtake the Crusaders as Round 16 of the 2014 Super Rugby season gets underway.
The Crusaders are in pole position in the New Zealand Conference and third overall after securing a thrilling victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend, while the Force are in fourth place on the overall table and second in the Australian Conference.
There is just a solitary point between the sides and Friday's winner will move above the Waratahs into second, with the Australian franchise playing the Chiefs the following day.
With the competition taking a break - for the upcoming Test window period during June - both sides will be determined to consolidate their positions in the play-off places as defeat could see them dropping out of the play-off positions.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder was handed a major boost during the week with news thatcurrent IRB International Player of the Year Kieran Read will be fit to captain the side.
Read has been out of action since sustaining an injury in Round 10 against defending champions Chiefs and with the All Blacks squad set to be announced on Sunday, he will be keen to hit the ground running.
"We are up against another very tough team this week and this win is so important for both of us," said Blackadder.
"So we need to make the most of every advantage we've got, and the home crowd is one of the big ones."
Force coach Michael Foley is also aided by the returns of No 8 Brynard Stander and ultility back Patrick Dellit for Friday's trip to the AMI Stadium.
Stander earns his first opportunity in the run-on side after 10 dynamic performances off the bench in 2014.
The 24-year-old will start at blindside flanker, while Angus Cottrell shifts to No 8, replacing Wallabies back-rower Ben McCalman, who will miss the match due to a groin strain.
Dellit returns to the starting line-up and takes the No 13 jersey for the first time since playing the Force at home in 2012 in a new-look centre pairing with Chris Tuatara-Morrison.
"Our recent block of matches has been a great challenge for the boys - starting with three strong South African sides and now facing the Crusaders in Christchurch," said Foley.
"The Crusaders are a benchmark side and our ability to lift for one big effort ahead of the Test window will be crucial to performing well."
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 Read (capt).
Replacements: 16 Flynn, 17 Crockett, 18 Franks, 19 Tupou, 20 L Whitelock, 21 Heinz, 22 A Whitelock, 23 Tuitavake
Western Force: 15 Hayward, 14 Haylett-Petty, 13 Dellit, 12 Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Cummins, 10 Ebersohn, 9 Prior; 1 Cowan, 2 Charles, Longbottom, 4 Wykes 5 Steenkamp, 6 Stander, Hodgson (capt), 8 Cottrell.
Replacements: 16 Tessmann, 17 Van Wyk, 18 Hoskins, 19 Coleman, 20 Hodson, 21 Turner, 22 Holmes, 23 Leyds
You can watch Crusaders v Western Force live from 8:30am on Sky Sports 2HD
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