May 24, 2018 / 7:14 AM / 10 months ago

Stakes high as Crusaders, Hurricanes face off in blockbuster

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - There was no hiding the eagerness of Wellington Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd in the leadup to Friday’s Super Rugby blockbuster against the champion Canterbury Crusaders, a clash that could do plenty to shape the Super Rugby playoffs.

The match in Christchurch not only pits the two best sides in the competition but resumes a rivalry that has become intense in recent seasons.

“Some games you get a bit more excited about than others ... that’s just human nature,” Boyd said this week.

The eight-time champion Crusaders lead the Super Rugby standings on 46 points, one ahead of the Hurricanes who have a game in hand.

While the Hurricanes have won eight of their last 11 matches against the Crusaders, Boyd and his captain Brad Shields are mindful that playing in a wet and cold Christchurch produces major hurdles against an All Blacks-laden home pack.

In the corresponding match last year, the Crusaders attacked the Hurricanes in the contact areas and strangled the supply of clean, quick ball to TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett, preventing them from unleashing the tournament’s most explosive backline.

The home side will be without captain Sam Whitleock (concussion) and suspended props Joe Moody and Owen Franks but Shields felt the Crusaders would not veer far from their usual game-plan on Friday.

“Winning those small, brutal battles,” Shields said on Thursday when asked what would be the key to the game.

“They’re going to be niggly at the rucks, they’re going to try and turn our ball over, they’re going to try and smack us.”

Finishing top of the dominant New Zealand conference is likely to mean home advantage all the way through to the Aug. 4 title-decider, given the third-placed team, South Africa’s leading Lions, are well off the pace and with less games to play over the final weeks of the regular season.

“We are expecting everything,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said. “They are tough, physical. This is what we play for. We enjoy it. I love these weeks.”

Editing by Ian Ransom

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