The Crusaders will secure a third straight win on the road against the Force in Perth on Friday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Having beaten the Sharks and Lions in South Africa over the past two weekends, the Saders are now out to prove Greg Martin wrong. The former Wallaby turned TV commentator referred to them earlier this week as the 'most basic of the New Zealand teams' adding that the Force, who beat the Crusaders 16-14 in Perth in 2013, would give the visitors a real go again this weekend.
However, according to SARugbymag.co.za's Opta-powered stats, the Force trail the seven-time champions in the number of tries scored, clean breaks made and metres gained. They have also conceded 30 more turnovers than the Crusaders and seven more penalties.
Against the Sharks, the Crusaders were forced to revert to a more forward-oriented game, but they displayed an all-out attacking approach against the Lions, highlighting their ability to play the match situation.
The Force were on the end of two hidings against the Hurricanes and Chiefs, before showing some resilience and fighting spirit in the 32-20 loss to the Highlanders last weekend. But their shoddy second-half defence, which has been the major area of concern throughout this campaign, will have Saders game-breakers like Nemani Nadolo and Johnny McNicholl chomping at the bit.
One aspect of the Force's game that has been above par is the place-kicking. If they are to run the Crusaders close, flyhalf Peter Grant will have to maintain his accuracy off the kicking tee. But even if that happens, you wouldn't bet against the visitors running them ragged.
There is one change to the Force's starting lineup as they welcome back lock Steve Mafi in place of Ross Haylett-Petty, who took a knock to the head last weekend. Prop Francois van Wyk has recovered after undergoing wrist surgery and will make his first appearance of the season via the bench.
Meanwhile, the Crusaders made four rotational swaps with Sam Whitelock, Jordan Taufua, Mitchell Drummond and Sean Wainui all starting before Scott Barrett, Jimmy Tupou, Andy Ellis and Kieron Fonotia. The injury-enforced fifth change sees Ben Volavola take over the fullback duties from David Havili, who was injured against the Lions.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 5, Force 2, Draw 2
In Perth: Force 2, Crusaders 2
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders have won three of their last four matches against the Force, though they've been victorious in only one of their last three trips to Western Australia.
– A win for the Crusaders would be their fifth in succession, their longest streak in Super Rugby since winning five on the bounce from round nine to 13 in 2014.
– The Force haven't hosted and defeated a New Zealand team since the corresponding round two seasons ago, when they beat the Chiefs 18-15.
– The Crusaders are one of only two teams (Stormers) to have a positive points differential in each of the four quarters of matches so far this season.
– The Force have conceded 80 points in the final quarter of matches so far this season, by far the most of any team and exactly four times as many as they've been able to score in reply.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Force||Jonno Lance (36)||Ben Tapuai, Luke Morahan (2)||Dane Haylett-Petty (395)||Matt Hodgson (86)|
|Crusaders||Richie Mo'unga (65)||Ryan Crotty, Nemani Nadolo, Richie Ma'unga (3)||Nemani Nadolo (390)||Jordan Taufua (33)|
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Solomoni Rasolea, 11 Semisi Masirewa, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sitiveni Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Heath Tessman, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Subs: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Jermaine Ainsley, 19 Rory Walton, 20 Richard Hardwick, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Ian Prior, 23 Albert Nikoro.
Crusaders – 15 Ben Volavola, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Sean Wainui, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Jimmy Tupou, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Mike Fraser (New Zealand), Graham Cooper (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images