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Rugby Union: Crusaders can cruise to victory.

Byline: Graham Woods

THE Canterbury Crusaders have never lost a match at

the business end of Super 12, and that record should stay

intact after tomorrow's semi-final against the Wellington Hurricanes.

It's played eight and won eight for the Crusaders in the play-offs, and they have won their last three home finals matches by a double-figure margin.

That is not the only stat that should interest us, with the home side giving up eight points on the handicap. In the northern hemisphere knockout matches tend to throw up close results. But of 14 semi-final matches played since Super 12 started, only three - and none in the last three seasons - have been decided by margins of fewer than ten points.

The Hurricanes are competing in the play-offs for the first time since 1997, but although they have performed well this season, they showed their worst side in their defeat to the Blues last Saturday, and their opponents tomorrow will be primed to exploit the weaknesses they revealed.

In Auckland, the Hurricanes coughed up possession no fewer than 43 times, and lost half of their line-out ball on their own throw.

The Crusaders have recalled veteran lock Norm Maxwell, who has failed to last 80 minutes in all of the five games he has started this year, and the only reason to bring him in at this stage must be to target the stuttering Wellington line-out. The home side look as if they are aiming to starve the Hurricanes up front, denying ball to their exciting backs, and if that happens, it could be curtains.

The Crusaders won the league clash 37-21 back in February and were well on top for the first 20 minutes until an injury to centre Nathan Mauger forced a reshuffle in midfield and a few defensive lapses.

Influential fly-half Andrew Mehrtens starts on the bench, but Aaron Mauger is fit to start. Winger Marika Vunibaka also starts despite missing training early in the week.

Recommendation

Crusaders -8

4pts 10-11 (Paddy Power)

CAPTION(S):

Crusaders centre Daniel Carter (centre) fends off the challenge of the Blues' Justin Collins
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:May 15, 2003
Words:350
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