|Our writer takes a look at this Friday's Super Rugby fixture between the Saders & Tahs.|
Crusaders v Waratahs | Friday 20 May | AMI Stadium | 09:35
There may only be a solitary Super Rugby fixture taking place this Friday but with the game being contested between the current New Zealand Conference leaders and the current Australian Conference leaders, it more than makes up for the limited fixtures list.
Both teams will be raring to get a victory here as a win would greatly advance their chances of securing a home quarter-final.
To Win (80 Mins)
Crusaders 2/9 | Draw 30/1 | Waratahs 33/10
Crusaders (-10.5) 9/10 | Waratahs ( +10.5) 9/10
Todd Blackadder’s men had their eight-game unbeaten run come to abrupt halt last Friday. Having taken an early lead in their derby fixture against the Highlanders, the Crusaders looked on for another impressive victory, you can never write off the Highlanders however, and by the time the half-time whistle had blown it was the Highlanders that were in the lead.
The men from Otago would never surrender their advantage eventually running out 34-26 victors, which ensured the Crusaders would leave Waikato without picking up any log points.
Despite last week’s defeat, the Crusaders still occupy top spot on the New Zealand Conference, Combined Australasian Conference, and the Overall Conference standings. They also have a game in hand over last week’s opponents and the Hurricanes.
The main reason for the Crusaders lofty position in all the Conferences has been their magnificent forward pack. Kieran Reed and his fellow forwards have played some immaculate rugby this term – dominating opposition sides at set piece time and ensuring that their scrumhalves have the cleanest of ball to work with due to their aggressive rucking.
It would be amiss of me not to mention young pivot Richie Mo'unga when waxing lyrical about the Canterburians. While his forwards have laid a solid foundation for the youngster to operate off, the way in which he’s made use of the ball has been fantastic to watch. His decision making has been spot on and his distribution of the ball to his outside backs has been as crisp as a winter’s morning. The youngster will need to at the pinnacle of his game this week though, as he’s coming up against the Wallaby incumbent ten, Bernard Foley.
In terms of team news coming out of the camp, Todd Blackadder has opted to make just two changes to his run-on XV with Joe Moody coming into the front row for Wyatt Crockett and Ryan Crotty coming into the centres to partner the impressive Kieron Fonotia.
The Waratahs revival is well and truly underway. They got their campaign off to an appalling start – they only managed to win two of their first six fixtures and both victories were over a Reds squad that was in disarray at the time. The Waratahs recent upswing in results – they have now won four on the trot - has drastically changed their season’s prospects. They now occupy top spot on the Australian Conference – a point ahead of the Brumbies – and if they can retain that position, they will guarantee themselves a home quarter-final berth.
Retaining that lofty spot may prove quite the task as they have to face four New Zealand sides in their run in. They begin summiting that Kiwi shaped mountain this week, with the Crusaders providing the first hurdle.
If they are to get a win at AMI Stadium they’re going to need their internationals to fire especially with Kurtley Beale having picked up a season-ending injury last week. Without Beale, the onus will fall on skipper Michael Hopper, mercurial utility back Israel Folau, and their halfback pairing of Wallaby incumbents Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley.
With Beale sidelined, David Horowitz will come into partner Folau in the centres. There is further changes to the run-on XV from the one that beat the Bulls 31-8 last week with Jed Holloway slotting in at number eight for man mountain Wycliff Palau.
The Stats That Matter
The Waratahs have won the last two clashes between the sides, but it must be noted that both of those games were played in New South Wales. The Crusaders have won the last three clashes on New Zealand soil, the most recent of which saw them run out 23-22 victors in 2013.
These games tend to be close scoring affairs with the winning margin tending to be in the single figures. They also tend to end with the total combined score in the fifties.
Verdict: Crusaders (-10.5) 9/10
Despite making some huge inroads in recent weeks I still can’t see this Waratahs side being able to compete with the hosts. History may indicate a tight affair but I suspect we may see a bit of a blow out this Friday.