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After four rounds of action, the seven-time champions are one of three unbeaten sides – along with the Chiefs and Stormers – in the competition and with the Force winning just one out of three matches so far, the home side will fancy their chances of retaining their winning record.
Under the guidance of their new head coach, Scott Robertson, the Crusaders are fast gaining a reputation as the tournament’s comeback kings after winning their last three matches – against the Highlanders, Reds and Blues – thanks to impressive second half comebacks in which they were trailing by huge margins at half-time in each of those encounters.
After losing stalwarts like Nemani Nadolo and Andy Ellisat the end of the 2016, there were concerns in some quarters about the men from Christchurch’s prospects but Robertson has made some shrewd signings with the likes of Seta Tamanivalu and Bryn Hall fitting in seamlessly to the Crusaders enviroment while youngsters like George Bridge and Jack Goodhue have also impressed this season.
The Force head in to this fixture facing an uncertain future as it has been reported that they could be axed from Super Rugby if the competition is cut to 15 teams next year.
Robertson believes that will give the Perth-based side extra motivation to do well against his troops.
“They are fighting for a lot more than the points,” he told Stuff.
“There is all that stuff going on over in Aussie at the moment and they want to represent their family and their people. We are expecting everything from them.”
Despite an indifferent start to the season, the Force were competitive in all their matches this season. Their head coach, David Wessels, expects a tough assignment but expects his side to give a good account of themselves.
“Playing New Zealand teams in New Zealand is the ultimate test of our progress over the last few months. There’s great energy in the group and we’re looking forward to Friday night.”
The last time these teams met: The Crusaders were made to work hard for a win when they visited Perth in Round Seven last year and only a late Jordan Taufua try secured Todd Blackadder’s charges a narrow 20-19 victory. The visitors led 13-6 at half-time thanks to tries from Mitchell Drummond and Johnny McNicholl but the Force were leading 19-13 with 10 minutes left on the clock after Ryan Louwrens scored their only try and Peter Grant kicked three further penalties, after he also slotted one in the first half. Taufua clinched the win for the Crusaders when he barged over from close quarters shortly before full-time.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Scott Barrett, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Mitchell Dunshea, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Manasa Mataele
Western Force: 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Marcel Brache, 11 Chance Peni, 10 Jono Lance (c), 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Isi Naisarani, 5 Matt Philip, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Ben Daley
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Richie Arnold, 20 Matt Hodgson, 21 Michael Ruru, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Robbie Coleman