By Thomas Branston
BNZ Crusaders Head Coach Scott Robertson has named a strong side to face the British and Irish Lions at the AMI Stadium on Saturday.
The Crusaders have a few familiar faces starting the match with the likes of captain Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks and Israel Dagg but Robertson has also experimented by adding in some talented young players into the ranks with a particularly impressive backline.
Not to mention last seasons Crusaders skipper Kieran Read who misses out on the tie with a finger injury, but the All Blacks captain should be back in time to face the Lions in the test match series.
Going on previous performances, the Lions will have their work cut out as they will have to produce some creative rugby to breakdown play and score points, the Crusaders have a very talented side so consistency and discipline will be key.
I look into some familiar faces and some names you might want to look out for in tomorrow’s matchup in Christchurch.
A born leader and an influential part of the All Blacks squad, winning the tournament on two occasions in 2011 and 2015.
Sam Whitelock was named captain at the beginning of the 2017 campaign, replacing current All Blacks skipper Kieran Read and the powerful lock will play an influential part in the success of the hosts on the day.
The 28-year-old will battle it out at the set-piece with Lions captain Alun Wyn Jones and Saracens’ George Kruis in what should be an epic battle.
Capped 84 times with the All Black Whitelock is dangerous at the breakdown, don’t be surprised if you see the 6 foot 8 inches lock turning over ball and crashing into anyone who steps in his path.
A versatile, agile back at heart, Dagg was part of the All Blacks 2011 squad that beat France to lift the famous Webb Ellis Cup.
Naturally positioned at full-back, Israel Dagg has made 61 appearances for New Zealand and has recently been called up to the 33-man squad to face the Lions in the test series.
The 29-year-old has plenty of pace and an eye for a gap to breach, not to add he has an incredible kick in him.
Dagg will be the most experienced player in the Crusaders back three and faces the oncoming challenges of Stuart Hogg, George North and Liam Williams.
Owen Franks is considered to be one of, if not the best tighthead prop in the world at the moment.
He is an experienced, dual World Cup winner and has 90 All Black caps to his name.
The 29-year-old is one to watch out for, strong on the ball, masterful in the set-piece and he is able to secure the ball in difficult positions.
Plying his trade for the Crusaders since 2009, Franks has raked up 123 appearances for the Christchurch based club and his experience will be key if the hosts are to beat the Lions.
Franks will partner up with fellow All Black internationals Codie Taylor and Joe Moody in a very strong front row and they will face up against Mako Vunipola, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong in what promises to be an explosive encounter come scrum-time.
Jack Goodhue is an upcoming talented outside centre with ample of speed, agility and balance which has allowed him to break into the Crusaders starting XV this season.
Although he has only made three appearances for the Crusaders, after a injury ridden year in 2016 Goodhue has been highly impressive in his play which has impressed Head Coach Robertson.
The 21-year-old inside centre won World Rugby Under 20 Championships in 2015 and has since developed his game after his knee injuries.
Goodhue will partner up with David Havili in midfield, making the pair very unexperienced compared to the Lions pairing with Warren Gatland opting for Ben Te’o and Jonathan Davies.
Expect a physical battle from the midfield quartet with both sets of players contrasting their focusses on powerful ball carrying opposed to offloading quick-ball play.
Richie Mo’unga –
Richie Mo’unga is a young, talented fly-half with a powerful yet accurate cannon of a right foot.
The 23-year-old has made 25 appearances for the Crusaders since 2016 and has scored a total of 281 points in his time in the red and black jersey.
Mo’unga debuted on 27 February 2016 at home against the Chiefs and went on to start all 16 matches during a season and he was also a member of the New Zealand Under-20 side that finished in 3rd at the 2014 IRB Junior World Championship in France where he scored a total of 29 points in 5 games.
Since then the talented fly-half has found himself a regular in the Crusaders 10 shirt and he will look to rally up as many points as he can against the lions on Saturday.
Mo’unga will come up against Owen Farrell at fly-half and it will be interesting to see who will get the upper-hand.
George Bridge is a promising prospect for the Crusaders and the speedy wing has impressed scoring eight tries in his eight appearances this season trailing Vince Aso (10) and Ngani Laumape (9) for tries scored during the 2017 season.
The 22-year-old has plenty of speed and his agility and footwork allow him to beat defenders in almost impossible positions.
Bridge was part of the side that won the World Rugby Under 20 Championships in 2015 where he made two appearances and scored one try.
After an impressive season so far Bridge will certainly be a danger man for the lions to deal with and the young winger will be coming up against Welsh pair Liam Williams and George North.