Preview: Crusaders v Waratahs
With ten points separating them from the Chiefs and only four games left, it seems the Crusaders' best hope is to finish between fourth and sixth spot.
They are more than capable of achieving such a target as despite their recent 28-19 loss to New Zealand's top dogs, many a team would have crumbled under the pressure Todd Blackadder's side applied on the home whitewash during that second-half. As it was this Chiefs side showed why they are the current tournament champions.
After this clash with the Waratahs, the Crusaders will face derby clashes against the Highlanders (away), Chiefs (home) and Hurricanes (home). Therefore, victory over the 'Tahs - currently three points below them - would enhance their position amongst the play-off contenders going into June.
Selection sees coach Blackadder stick with a combination that worked well last week as Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty once again link up in the centres outside Daniel Carter. That means Robbie Fruean finds himself on the bench where he will be joined by Andy Ellis, with his rotation with Willi Heinz ongoing.
One blow to their cause is the absence of Sam Whitelock which means fellow All Blacks squad member, Dominic Bird, gets a run to impress. However, the loss of his experience is cushioned by Corey Flynn's return - he'll in turn be eager to prove a point to Steve Hansen.
The international shadow looming over Super Rugby right now is much larger in Australia with the Lions currently en route Down Under via Hong Kong. Wallaby squad members such as Israel Folau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Rob Horne, Dave Dennis, Michael Hooper, Sitaleki Timani, Berrick Barnes, Sekope Kepu and Benn Robinson know that places are up for grabs ahead of the series. Next week's Force trip could be their final chance to shine.
One player who won't be in attendance this week - which gives Ben Mowen a lift in terms of Test selection - is Wycliff Palu so Dave Dennis is at eight. Pat McCutcheon subsequently comes into the side on the blindside while the in-form Cam Crawford returns on the wing.
Prediction: Hosts all the way for us in this one. Crusaders by at least 10!
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Willi Heinz, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Jimmy Tupou, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Robbie Fruean, 22 Adam Whitelock.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Cam Crawford, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Rob Horne, 11 Peter Betham, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Brendan McKibbin, 8 Dave Dennis, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Pat McCutcheon, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Sitaleki Timani, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 John Ulugia, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Will Skelton, 19 Jed Holloway, 20 Matt Lucas, 21 Berrick Barnes, 22 Drew Mitchell.
Date: Friday, May 31
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant referees: Richard Kelly, Shane McDermott
Television match official: Glenn Newman