February 18, 2011
Eden Park, Auckland, Saturday 5.35pm (AEDT)
Last meeting: Crusaders 33 bt Blues 20 in Christchurch
Referee: Chris Pollock (NZ)
Greg Growden writes: There's plenty of smarties in New Zealand arguing that the Blues will be a tournament force this year, and that should start with a win over an injury depleted Crusaders, who often lose their way when Richie McCaw is not around.
In what looms as the match of the round, the New Zealand arch-rivals will be highly motivated to start the expanded competition with a bang. The Crusaders are without injured skipper Richie McCaw but will otherwise field a powerful line-up bolstered by the acquisition of fullback Israel Dagg. Flanker Daniel Braid is back at the Blues after a successful two seasons with the Reds and should provide more nous to their inconsistent pack. Test lock Ali Williams will play his first Super match in almost two years against his old side while another former Crusader, Jared Payne, will start at centre for the Blues. Three Whitelock brothers will turn out for the visitors.
Blues: Isaia Toeava, Joe Rokocoko, Jared Payne, Benson Stanley, Rene Ranger, Stephen Brett, Alby Mathewson, Chris Lowrey, Daniel Braid, Jerome Kaino, Ali Williams, Anthony Broic, John Afoa, Keven Mealamu (captain), Tony Woodcock.
Reserves: Tom McCartney Ash Dixon, Charlie Faumuina, Filo Paulo, Luke Braid, Toby Morland, Lachie Munro, Sherwin Stowers.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock, Tu Umaga-Marshall, Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett.
Reserves: Francis Smith, Ben Franks, Chris Jack, Jonathan Poff, Willi Heinz, Matt Berquist, Tom Marshall Tyler Bleyendaal.