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Super Rugby: Crusaders v Sharks preview
Seven-time champion Crusaders take on a ravenous Sharks side in the first Super Rugby semi-final at the usually impenetrable fortress that is AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.
The fixture comes just two months after the Sharks produced a memorable 30-25 win at the venue that ended a run of 13 years without success for South African sides in the city.
But Crusaders' head coach Todd Blackadder will have revenge on his mind as well as seeking a place in the Super Rugby final on August 2.
The Kiwi giants will be bidding to reach an 11th final having finished second to the New South Wales Waratahs in the regular season standings, but have not won a title since 2008 and the closest they have come to adding an eighth crown was when they lost the final to the Queensland Reds in 2011.
Two late penalties from flyhalf Frans Steyn allowed the Sharks to edge the Otago Highlanders 31-27 in Durban, putting them into the semi-finals for the eighth time.
Jake White's side are the South African conference winners and also have the added incentive of trying to become the first overseas team to win a final in the history of Super Rugby.
"We have to be positive about winning two games overseas to get the title," White said.
"Over the last fortnight we have had a great win over the Stormers and then had to fight for our lives to beat the Highlanders, and that is great momentum to take into the semi-finals."
Pat Lambie has been restored to fly-half and fellow international Willem Alberts has been shifted to lock as the Sharks made three changes to their starting line-up for the shopwdown in Christchurch.
Lambie, who made his first appearance in four months as a replacement in last weekend's win over the Otago Highlanders, is restored to fly-half with Frans Steyn moved to inside centre alongside Paul Jordaan.
Springbok JP Pietersen, who was outside centre last week, is named on the wing in place of Sibusiso Sithole, who drops to the bench.
Alberts shifts to lock to replace the injured Anton Bresler, with Jean Deysel taking Alberts' place on the flank. Stephan Lewies is back at lock after injury in place of Etienne Oosthuizen.
It will be Lambie's first start since March when he tore his bicep. With Deysel having been elevated into the starting line-up, Tera Mtembu comes on to the bench.
Injury keeps talismanic prop Tendai Mtawira out but his teenage replacement Thomas du Toit received high praise after last weekend's playoff win.
All Blacks captain and former World Player of the Year, Richie McCaw, will be back in Crusaders colours, having recovered from the broken rib he suffered playing for New Zealand against England in June.
Blackadder has also brought in hooker Corey Flynn, meaning the Crusaders will boast 13 current or former All Black internationals in their run-on side.
Fly-half Dan Carter also starts in an unfamiliar position, again lining up at inside centre outside Colin Slade as he continues his return from a six-month sabbatical.
"The Sharks have shown this season that they are an extremely classy outfit and a very difficult team to beat. This is our biggest challenge yet, but we feel ready for it," Blackadder said.
The winners of the match will play the New South Wales Waratahs or ACT Brumbies, who face off in Saturday's second semi-final in Sydney.
Crusaders: 15 Dagg, 14 Fonotia, 13 Crotty, 12 Carter, 11 Nadolo, 10 Slade, 9 Ellis, 1 Crockett, 2 Flynn, 3 Franks, 4 Bird, 5 Whitelock, 6 McCaw, 7 Todd, 8 Read (capt)
Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Moody, 18 Laulala, 19 Tupou, 20 Taufua, 21 Heinz, 22 Taylor, 23 McNicholl
Sharks: 15 Marais, 14 Pietersen, 13 Jordaan, 12 Steyn, 11 Mvovo, 10 Lambie, 9 Reinach, 1 Du Toit, 2 B du Plessis (capt), 3 J du Plessis, 4 Alberts, 5 Lewies, 6 Coetzee, 7 Deysel, 8 Kankowski
Replacements: 16 Cooper, 17 Chadwick, 18 Adriaanse, 19 Oosthuizen, 20 Mtembu, 21 McLeod, 22 Sithole, 23 Chavhanga
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|Friday 13th February|
|06:35||Crusaders vs Melbourne Rebels|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Reds|
|17:10||Lions vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 14th February|
|06:35||Blues vs Chiefs|
|15:05||Sharks vs Cheetahs|
|17:05||Bulls vs Stormers|
|Sunday 15th February|
|06:05||Waratahs vs Western Force|
|Friday 20th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Brumbies|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Waratahs|
|17:10||Bulls vs Hurricanes|
|Saturday 21st February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Reds vs Western Force|
|15:05||Stormers vs Blues|
|17:10||Sharks vs Lions|
|Friday 27th February|
|06:35||Highlanders vs Reds|
|11:00||Western Force vs Hurricanes|
|17:10||Cheetahs vs Blues|
|Saturday 28th February|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Crusaders|
|08:40||Melbourne Rebels vs Brumbies|
|15:05||Bulls vs Sharks|
|17:10||Lions vs Stormers|
|Friday 6th March|
|06:35||Chiefs vs Highlanders|
|08:40||Brumbies vs Western Force|
|Saturday 7th March|
|06:35||Blues vs Lions|
|08:40||Reds vs Waratahs|
Read the thoughts and opinions of Phil Edwards with skysports.com