Israel Dagg has the ability to spark the Crusaders to a seventh successive win when they take on the Brumbies in Canberra this Sunday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Dagg was in scintillating form when he returned from a couple of ill-timed injuries to play his first game back for the Crusaders against the Jaguares last weekend.
Before the match, coach Todd Blackadder commented he was ‘fired up and ready to go’, but few would have expected him to make such an impact after playing just 30 minutes of club rugby in almost six months.
Yet it didn’t take him long to mark his return as he ran a superb line to score a 24th-minute try, while in the second half he completed his brace with a superb solo effort. It completed a performance that saw him make 118m and three clean breaks, while beating seven defenders.
Dagg’s return has added yet another threat to a Crusaders side that has steadily built up a head of steam in Super Rugby. It’s increasingly looking as if the seven-time champions could finally add another title to that tally.
There’s a mighty long way still to go, but the Crusaders have struck an impressive balance between pragmatism and panache, and they’re currently just two log points off the top of the New Zealand conference.
It should make for an enthralling clash against the Australian conference leaders, with the Brumbies having dropped just two games this season. And while they have also looked somewhat vulnerable in recent times, the Canberra-based side did manage to clinch an important win over the Waratahs last weekend.
The result enabled the Brumbies to move four points clear at the top of the Aussie conference, and a win over the Crusaders would also make some statement about their title credentials.
The Brumbies have named an unchanged starting lineup for this clash, while the Crusaders have made two injury-enforced changes to their backline, with David Havili coming in for Ryan Crotty at inside centre and Jone Macilai replacing Johnny McNicholl on the wing.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 14, Brumbies 8
In Melbourne: Brumbies 6, Crusaders 5
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders have won their last five matches against the Brumbies, scoring an average 39.8 points per game in the process.
– The Crusaders have won their last six matches, but not since 2008 have they strung together more wins.
– The Brumbies have led at half-time in four of their seven matches so far this season (level once), although they have not led at the break in consecutive matches since round 17 in 2015.
– The Brumbies have conceded just one try this season when the opposition has obtained possession by winning a turnover, the joint fewest of any team (level with the Sharks and Stormers).
– Nemani Nadolo has made 15 offloads this season, more than any other player, while his 15 clean breaks are the second most this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Leali'ifano (76)||Joe Tomane (5)||Joe Tomane (395)||David Pocock (59)|
|Crusaders||Richie Mo'unga (82)||Richie Mo'unga (4)||Johnny McNicholl (498)||Kieran Read (54)|
Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Marty McKenzie.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nic Berry (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: Ian Smith (Australia)
Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images