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The seven time Super Rugby champions haven’t won a title since the 2008 season when they beat the Waratahs in the final and this year will be coach Todd Blackadder’s last in charge of the Christchurch side.
In recent years the Chiefs have been the better of the two sides and won titles in 2012 and 2013. Now in 2016 both sides are in a rebuilding phase following big name departures.
While pre-season form is never reliable the alarm bells started ringing for the Crusaders last week when they were beaten 74-7 by the Hurricanes and before that they drew 19 all with the Highlanders. Their only win was a 31-3 victory over the Reds at Ballymore.
The Chiefs beat the Waratahs in a pre-season match but were beaten by the Blues and in their pre-season matches they lost Mitch Karpik and Nepo Laulala. Dominic Bird who joined from the Crusaders was also injured in the pre-season and will be out for six rounds.
The Crusaders will be learning to live without the likes of Dan Carter and Richie McCaw and Israel Dagg is targeting a return from a dislocated shoulder in April.
In short neither side has had an ideal pre-season and the opening round will be down to who puts last season’s retirements behind them the best.
The Crusaders will have the benefit of playing at home where they have won 67% of their matches against the Chiefs. That is in comparison to the Crussaders record of winning 59% of their matches against the Chiefs regardless of the venue.
The Crusaders will be aware though that on their last two visits the Chiefs have left as the winners.
Five of the Chiefs 23 will be making their team debut and the three of the Crusaders 23 will be making their debut which gives the home side a slight edge in experience.
Crusaders: 1. Joe Moody , 2. Codie Taylor , 3. Owen Franks , 4. Scott Barrett , 5. Samuel Whitelock (C) , 6. Jordan Taufua , 7. Tim Boys , 8. Kieran Read , 9. Andy Ellis , 10. Richie Mo’ungan , 11. Nemani Nadolo ,12. Kieron Fonotia , 13. Sean Wainui , 14. Jone Macilai , 15. David Havili
Replacements : Ben Funnell , Wyatt Crockett ,Mike Alaalatoa ,Jimmy Tupou , Reed Prinsep , Leon Fukofuka , Ben Volavola ,Johnny McNicholl
Chiefs: 1. Pauliasi Manu , 2. Rhys Marshall , 3. Hiroshi Yamashita** , 4. Michael Allardice , 5. Brodie Retallick , 6. Taleni Seu** , 7. Sam Cane co-captain , 8. Tom Sanders** , 9. Tawera Kerr-Barlow , 10. Aaron Cruden co-captain , 11. James Lowe , 12. Charlie Ngatai , 13. Seta Tamanivalu , 14. Shaun Stevenson** , 15. Damian McKenzie
Replacements : 16. Nathan Harris , 17. Mitchell Graham , 18. Siate Tokolahi , 19. Maama Vaipulu , 20. Johan Bardoul , 21. Brad Weber , 22. Anton Lienert-Brown , 23. Latu Vaeno