The Waratahs will want to build on their come-from-behind victory over the Rebels last week by claiming a huge Crusaders scalp, this Sunday.The Waratahs host the Crusaders in the first Sunday game of 2017. The hosts channelled their in Crusader last week by overturning a substantial half-time deficit to beat the Force. They face a much tougher test this time around, however, as they face a Crusaders side who are yet to taste defeat this year.
Waratahs v Crusaders | Saturday 2 April | Allianz Stadium | 08h05
To Win (80 Mins)
Waratahs 26/10 | Draw 22/1 | Crusaders 2/7
Waratahs (+8.5) 9/10 | Crusaders (-8.5) 9/10
The Aussie sides have been abysmal in 2017, and the 'Tahs are no exception. Two wins from five games isn't good enough for a franchise with such extensive resources at their disposal; it's hard to believe that this is the same side (more or less) that were crowned champions just three short seasons ago. Coach Daryl Gibson just doesn't seem to be getting the best out of his talented squad, with top international players not performing to the best of their ability.
Israel Folau's short sojourn at outside centre failed miserably, with the league-convert struggling to assert himself with the limited time and space that is afforded at no. 13. He performed better last week in his preferred position of fullback, and it looks as though he is there to stay. Michael Hooper has also been below-par this season, and he will need a few big performances in the coming weeks to remind Michael Cheika that he is worthy of a starting place in the Wallaby XV.
Although the 'Tahs comeback victory over the Rebels last week was commendable, there is no way they will be able to "out-Crusader-the-Crusaders" and come back from a similar 19 point deficit this weekend. Another slow start against the men from Canterbury and there will be no hopes of a resurrection. They will remain buried. The Waratahs need to come out of the blocks firing for this one, and put the 'Saders under pressure early on if they are to have any chance of claiming a big "W" in Sydney.
The Crusaders' season has been somewhat unusual for them. They seem to have arrested their typical slow start to the campaign, and have a perfect record in 2017 to date (five wins from five matches). It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Sam Whitelock's boys however, as they have often needed to come back from the dead (as the 'Tahs did last week) and play catch up after letting sides score early on. Although it hasn't bitten them yet this season, they will be wary of letting bigger teams like the Chiefs get a good head start on them - the catch-up may not be so easy against the likes of Brodie Rettalick et al.
They travel to the Allianz this weekend full of confidence, sitting atop the Australasia Conference and well on their way to recording one of their most successful seasons to date. Their forward pack's performance against the Force was a bullying one, as five of their seven tries came from one-to-eight, and they will need to step up again on Sunday, against a very physical Waratahs outfit. The likes of Will Skelton and Sekope Kepu need to be hit hard from the first whistle and, with the quality that this Crusaders side possess, they should be more than capable of doing so.
Verdict: Crusaders (-8.5) 9/10
As much as I love rooting for the underdog, this Waratahs side will struggle to meet the Canterbarians' intensity this weekend. 'Saders by ten or more.