Super Rugby leaders Canterbury Crusaders are raring to give retiring Andy Ellis a “memorable night” when the popular scrum-half makes his 150th appearance in their trans-Tasman showdown against the NSW Waratahs on Friday.
Round 13 sees the cream of New Zealand and Australia square off in Christchurch while South Africa’s headliners, the Coastal Stormers and Northern Bulls, battle each other in Pretoria.
The Crusaders, while still top of the competition, are hurting after last week’s loss to defending champions Otago Highlanders, and have played the Ellis impact card in preparation for their Waratahs clash.
The long-serving scrum-half will be playing his 150th Super game and has chosen this week to announce his retirement from the competition at the end of this season.
Coach Todd Blackadder led the rallying cry, saying Ellis was “such a popular member of this team and we all want this to be a memorable night for him”.
“It is particularly special for Andy to mark this milestone in front of a home crowd. This is the last home game we’ll play until July,” he said.
The Crusaders, who have made two changes with All Blacks Joe Moody and Ryan Crotty rotated to the starting fifteen, are on 37 points, the same as Waikato Chiefs and the Highlanders but with a better points differential.
The Waratahs, who have won their last four games including victories over both the Stormers and Bulls, head the Australian conference with 30 points.
But their depth will be tested with the costly loss of Wasps-bound Kurtley Beale who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first minute of last week’s victory over the Bulls.
The 21-year-old David Horwitz will start at inside centre in Beale’s place, tasked with containing the experienced Crotty.
– Big blow –
While the Waratahs are safe at the top of the Australian conference this week as the ACT Brumbies have a bye, the Crusaders will be mindful of the threat from the Chiefs who play the Melbourne Rebels in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs, fresh from a bye last week, held a “brutal” review of their loss to the Highlanders the previous week, according to co-captain Sam Cane, and now have a clear idea of what they need to do to get back on top.
The Rebels also go into the game off a loss after being beaten 30-22 by the Brumbies and lie seven points adrift of the Waratahs.
The Stormers lead the Bulls by a mere three points at the top of the Africa 1 conference with both sides having won six of 10 games and the difference on the table coming from the Stormers ability to regularly pick up a losing bonus point.
The Stormers will be hit by the absence of captain Juan de Jongh who has a hamstring injury, robbing the game of a match-up between de Jongh and the Springbok midfield pair of Jan Serfontein and Jesse Kriel.
“This is an important game for us and obviously we’d like to have our strongest team available for it, so it is a big blow,” coach Robbie Fleck said.
However, the silver lining for Fleck was news that lock kingpin Eben Etzebeth is ready to play again.
There is unlikely to be any change in the Africa 2 conference where the leaders Golden Lions play a depleted Jaguares who have both captain Agustin Creevy and backrower Leonardo Senatore suspended.
The Coastal Sharks, who lie second in that conference, play the bottom-placed Southern Kings.
The Western Force host the Auckland Blues in Perth while the Queensland Reds are at home to the Sunwolves in Brisbane.