By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
Hamilton's main drag can be a tricky zone for visiting rugby fans, although that is not where the Crusaders expect to cop grief tomorrow night.
Instead, they predict the heavies will be wearing the Chiefs' garb and tossing their weight around Waikato Stadium as they aim to rebound from their shock defeat to the Queensland Reds at Waikato Stadium last weekend.
Having reversed their usual trend of imitating a hungover tortoise at the start of the Super 14, the Chiefs carved their way through the opening three rounds unbeaten before losing 23-18 to the Reds after a series of handling errors and missed tackles undermined their early 15-0 lead.
The Crusaders know how they feel; they were whacked 41-20 by the Reds in their second-round fixture in Brisbane and coach Todd Blackadder was blunt when he predicted a backlash:
"We know what it's like to get one shoved up us and I am sure they will have done all their hurting this week.
"We are expecting this to be a really confrontational, physical contest.
"They always are."
This has not been a week of plain sailing for the Chiefs off the field, either, with police yesterday confirming No8 Sione Lauaki has been charged with assault.
Coach Ian Foster has subsequently axed Lauaki for breaching team protocols and must be seething at losing a player that often promoted his All Blacks' chances by performing like a man possessed against Richie McCaw's Mainlanders.
"I've spoken to Sione and we've both decided that he won't be involved in this game in light of the week that he has had," Foster said.
"We will fully support him over the next few weeks and what he has to go through.
"It's something you never want to happen, but it is a reality of life that some things get chucked at you as a team and we just have to learn how to deal with them."
Blackadder has made two changes to the side that started in the 33-20 win over the Blues last weekend, promoting Isaac Ross into the second row ahead of Sam Whitelock and halfback Kahn Fotuali'i replaces the concussed Andy Ellis.
Whitelock did little wrong against the Blues and although Blackadder hinted he did not want the 21-year-old to burn out after four consecutive matches, he will have been eager to insert the refreshed Ross back into his partnership with fellow All Blacks lock Brad Thorn.
Former All Blacks lock Chris Jack will have to wait another week, at least, and may get a run against the Lions on March 20.
Although proving his fitness at training yesterday, Thomas Waldrom has been unable to elbow Kieran Read out of No8 which leaves captain McCaw once again in the No6 jersey to share the fetcher duties with George Whitelock.
"Reado has played No8 for the All Blacks, we thought we would go with continuity rather than change for change's sake again," Blackadder said.
"And obviously for `Barney' [Waldrom], with a week out of this competition you lose that little bit of conditioning."
This will be McCaw's second match at No6.
He recently downplayed the change in roles by saying he would prefer to change back to his pure openside flanker role, allowing him to operate at No7 under the new rule interpretations. Foster has made two changes by bringing in Aled de Malmanche for injured rake Hika Elliot and Craig Clarke for Culum Retallick.
Crusaders: Jared Payne, Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Kahn Fotuali'i, Kieran Read, George Whitelock, Richie McCaw (c), Isaac Ross, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Ti'i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Thomas Waldrom, Willi Heinz, Adam Whitelock, Colin Slade.
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (c), Lelia Masaga, Richard Kahui, Callum Bruce, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Colin Bourke, Tanerau Latimer, Liam Messam, Romana Graham, Craig Clarke, Nathan White, Aled de Malmanche, Sona Taumalolo.
Reserves: Vern Kamo, Ben Afeaki, Culum Retallick, Luke Braid, Junior Poluleuligaga, Mike Delany, Dwayne Sweeney. (Elliot and lock Craig Clarke for Culum Retallick.)
Referee: Mark Lawrence (SA).