Super Rugby Crusaders warned not to cross 'that line' against Chiefs

It will be mate against mate but no holds barred when the Canterbury Crusaders look to defend their unbeaten record against close rivals Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday.

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The Canterbury Crusaders will be defending an unbeaten record when they take on close rivals Waikato Chiefs play

The Canterbury Crusaders will be defending an unbeaten record when they take on close rivals Waikato Chiefs

(AFP/File)
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It will be mate against mate but no holds barred when the Canterbury Crusaders look to defend their unbeaten record against close rivals Waikato Chiefs in Suva on Friday.

The pressure is mounting as the Super Rugby competition draws closer to determining the top eight, while New Zealand teams have the added weight of preparing for next month's British and Irish Lions tour.

Notably, All Blacks double World Cup winning centre Sonny Bill Williams, with limited time left to impress New Zealand selectors, is listed to return to the Auckland Blues after being sidelined with concussion.

The Wellington Hurricanes also have Dane Coles and Nehe Milner-Skudder back training although neither will front the Central Cheetahs this weekend.

While the injured start to return, there will be no holding back when the Crusaders and Chiefs, who have only lost one game, clash in a match which could determine both the outcome of the New Zealand conference and the overall top ranking.

The Chiefs, who have not lost to the Crusaders since 2014, have a reputation for provoking opponents, and Crusaders coach Scott Robertson has warned his players not to retaliate.

"There are a lot good mates and that adds to it," Robertson said.

"There will definitely be a fine line with the intensity of it and the Chiefs like to live on that line.

"It is a really good point around our discipline and making sure that we execute and we are tough, without crossing that line."

In a clash with intriguing match-ups that will be closely watched by the All Blacks selectors, Crusaders skipper Sam Whitelock returns from a two-week suspension for striking an opponent to mark his Test locking partner Brodie Retallick.

In the midfield, All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Anton Lienart-Brown oppose each other with Crotty noting that the Chiefs "always bring physicality and niggle. You just expect that."

The fixture is a Chiefs home game but they have opted to swap the New Zealand winter for the Fiji warmth to acknowledge the contribution Pacific islanders make to New Zealand rugby.

Player workloads

The Hurricanes have switched All Blacks' flyhalf Beauden Barrett to fullback for their home match against the Central Cheetahs on Saturday and relegated regular number 15 Jordie Barrett to the bench.

It is one of four changes after the Hurricanes lost to the Crusaders last week.

Coach Chris Boyd described the move as managing player workloads with Jordie having appeared in every game so far in his first season of Super Rugby.

The Cheetahs have lost their last eight games, and a Hurricanes win could see them move up to second in the New Zealand conference if the Crusaders win in Fiji.

The Golden Lions, top of the Africa 2 conference and poised to take the overall lead if the New Zealand trio of Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes cancel each other out, face the Northern Bulls.

It has not been a good season for the Bulls with only three wins and now without lock RG Snyman who received a four-week ban for foul play during their 17-10 loss to the Otago Highlanders last week.

The Blues have been boosted by the return of Williams, a contender with Crotty and Lienart-Brown for the All Blacks midfield, when they play the Western Stormers in Cape Town.

The Stormers -- heavily beaten by the Hurricanes, Highlanders and Crusaders in recent weeks -- have Springbok locks Pieter-Steph du Toit and Eben Etzebeth back from injury and centre Damian de Allende is on the bench.

In the under-performing Australian conference, the Brumbies will look to protect their advantage when they face the Southern Kings who proved giant-killers last week when they upset the Coastal Sharks.

The NSW Waratahs, five points behind the Brumbies, are at home to the Melbourne Rebels who languish at the bottom of the Australian group.

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