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Old Rivalry Dies Hard

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Old Rivalry Dies Hard

Wellington, March 4 NZPA - Once the headline-hogging matchup of the Super rugby regular season, Saturday's Crusaders-Blues showdown still carries plenty of bite.

You have to go back to the 1998 final at Eden Park for the unofficial passing of the baton from the Blues to the Crusaders as the competition's standard-setters.

However, the rich northerners have rarely made life easy in matches against the seven-time champions in red and black since and they're promising another brutal Super 14 challenge in Christchurch.

The teams' overall record stands at eight wins each while the Crusaders have scored 383 points to the Blues' 382 in 16 meetings.

Both teams boast 2-1 win-loss records this season and are coming off physically impressive wins last weekend -- the Blues tackling the Reds into submission in Brisbane after the Crusaders ground the Sharks into the AMI Stadium dust.

Coaches Pat Lam and Todd Blackadder -- regular combatants in their playing days -- have spent time talking up their opponents this week, while welcoming back key forwards to the starting mix.

All Blacks' skipper Richie McCaw makes his first start for the Crusaders following a sharp 28 minutes off the bench last week while Blues prop Tony Woodcock is back and fizzing, the All Blacks loosehead regular relegated to a role off the pine last week in Brisbane.

The clash of the first five-eighths is one to relish.

Daniel Carter has hummed along comfortably in second gear so far this season while Stephen Brett -- the man Carter forced to seek his fortune in blue -- has been hot and cold.

A return of just eight from 16 with the goalkicking boot sums up Brett's mixed returns in 2010 and McCaw has already talked up the need to pressure his mercurial former teammate, who can make his boldest statement by guiding the Blues to an upset win.

The Chiefs welcome back their gamebreaking back three while playing their first game at Waikato Stadium, which they turned into fortress with six straight wins last year, when they host the Queensland Reds tomorrow night.

Captain Mils Muliaina's rest is over and he starts at fullback while sizzling wingers Sitiveni Sivivatu and Lelia Masaga have shaken off injury complaints.

The Chiefs are heavy favourites to continue a four-match streak against the injury-plagued Reds side, who have just one win to their name in New Zealand over the past five years.

In South Africa, the Highlanders and Hurricanes both face testing assignments in Cape Town and Bloemfontein on Sunday morning (NZT).

The Highlanders are unchanged from the side who notched a first win of the campaign, against the Cheetahs, but face stiffer opponents in the form of the Stormers, who welcome back Springboks' hard man Schalk Burger.

In the favour of the Highlanders is their historical record in South Africa, where they have lost just 22 times in 62 matches. It is record that only the Crusaders can better of the eight foundation sides from Australasia.

The Hurricanes would normally start strong favourites to quell the Cheetahs but injuries have hit them hard this week.

Lock Jason Eaton's season is over courtesy of his knee but the real problem is out wide, where centre Conrad Smith and utility Tamati Ellison didn't make the trip, meaning coach Colin Cooper will name a patched-up three-quarter line.

Elsewhere, former All Black first five-eighth Carlos Spencer is in line for his 100th Super rugby cap if he is used off the Lions bench against the ACT Brumbies.

The mercurial Lions have been overhauled for the match in Canberra where they chase a first win of the season, as do the listless Sharks against the New South Wales Waratahs in Sydney, also on Saturday night.

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