The Crusaders should cruise to victory against the Blues in Auckland on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Saders bounced back from a loss to the Highlanders (which ended their eight-match winning streak) with a 29-10 win against the Waratahs in Christchurch last Friday. However, with the Chiefs recording a bonus-point win against the Rebels, the Crusaders finished round 13 in second position on the New Zealand conference log (one point behind the Chiefs) and third on the Australasian group log (behind the Australian conference-leading Waratahs, who have 11 log points less than the Saders).
With the Chiefs expected to beat the Tahs in Sydney this weekend, victory against the Blues, who are last in the New Zealand conference, is non-negotiable for Todd Blackadder's men. They will also back themselves to score three more tries than their opponents to secure the bonus point. While the Saders are almost certain to qualify for the playoffs, they will want to win the Kiwi conference and earn a home quarter-final.
The Blues were fortunate to beat the Force 17-13 in Perth last weekend, having flown back from Johannesburg where they were smashed 43-5 by the Lions. It wouldn't be a surprise to see them lose by a similar margin on Saturday. The Blues have only won one of their last 14 matches against Kiwi opposition, while the Crusaders have won the last four fixtures between these sides, including a 28-13 victory in Christchurch in March.
The Blues have made a solitary change for this match, with Kara Pryor starting at openside flank. The Crusaders' three changes see Nemani Nadolo return from suspension to start on the left wing, Mitchell Drummond rotating with Andy Ellis at scrumhalf and Scott Barrett coming in for the injured Sam Whitelock in the second row.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 18, Blues 11
In Auckland: Crusaders 8, Blues 6
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders have won their last four encounters with the Blues, the longest winning streak by either team in the history of this fixture.
– The Blues have won only one of their last 14 games against New Zealand opposition, that win coming in round one this season against the Highlanders by only two points.
– The Crusaders have won six of their last seven games away from home, although their one defeat in that run came in their last away match.
– The Blues have enjoyed 17 minutes and 50 seconds of possession per game this season, the most of any team, while they also have a ruck success rate of 96%, the best in the competition.
– Of the 31 hookers to have made at least 30 lineout throws, Codie Taylor (92%) has the second best success rate overall (Adriaan Strauss, 94%).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Blues||Ihaia West (117)||Melani Nanai (4)||Tevita Li (485)||Blake Gibson (81)|
|Crusaders||Richie Mo’unga (126)||Jone Macilai (5)||Johnny McNicholl (671)||Matt Todd (102)|
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Kara Pryor, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Patrick Tuipoluto, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hoani Matenga/Jack Ram, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Male Sa'u, 23 Lolagi Visinia.
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 KIeran Read (c), 7 Jordan Taufua, 6 Matt Todd, 5 Luke Romano, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Joe Moody, 1 Codie Taylor
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 David Havili, 23 Marty McKenzie.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Paul Williams (New Zealand), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images