End of an era in Christchurch

Dan Carter and Richie McCaw will play their final match in Christchurch when the Crusaders host the Reds on Friday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.

The Crusaders look set to miss out on the play-offs for the first time since 2001 – the year McCaw made his debut for the franchise. It's staggering run of consistency, especially given the level of competition.

However, this season has been blighted by inconsistency, as McCaw and Carter have struggled to reach the heights of yesteryear. With McCaw announcing that this season will be his last, and Carter set for a final swansong in France, Saturday's match will be their last in front of the Christchurch faithful.

McCaw has been in and out of the side through injury and rotation and, although he remains a threat at the breakdown area, his timing has occasionally been off this season, resulting in a high penalty count.

Carter, forced into the unfamiliar No 12 jersey by the form of Colin Slade, was constantly caught out by Ma'a Nonu last weekend, while even his usually accurate boot has betrayed him during a difficult campaign.

McCaw will start Friday's match on the bench after recovering from a head knock suffered against the Blues a fortnight ago. Coach Todd Blackadder has made another three changes, with Nepo Laulala starting at loosehead prop, Dominic Bird at No 4 lock and Nafi Tuitavake on the right wing.

The Reds have made just one change to the side that went down to the Hurricanes in Brisbane last time out, with Jake Schatz being restored at the back of the scrum.

It's been four years since the Reds and Crusaders met in the 2011 Vodacom Super Rugby final. While the Reds have lurched from one catastrophic season to the next, the Crusaders have remained as consistent as ever. Until this year that is.

Blackadder's side was hardly outplayed by the Hurricanes last weekend, but despite dominating the set plays and seeing plenty ball, were unable to impose themselves on the match.

Against a lacklustre Reds outfit, they should have no such problems, and the Christchurch faithful will be hoping for a vintage performance and a grand send-off for two of their favourite sons.

Overall: Crusaders 15, Reds 6
In Christchurch: Crusaders 8, Reds 1

– The Reds accounted for the Crusaders’ largest ever Super Rugby loss; a 52-16 defeat in Queensland in round three of the inaugural season.
– The Crusaders have won three in a row against the Reds at an aggregate score of 110-49. The Reds won the previous three but lost the 11 before that against the New Zealanders.
– Both these sides have lost three of their last four matches.
– Only the Reds’ Adam Thomson (seven) and Marco Wentzel of the Sharks (eight) have produced more lineout steals than Crusader Luke Romano (six) this season.
– The Reds rank second for lineout success (90%) this season but the Crusaders have averaged more steals (2.5) than any other side. Their opponents have an average success rate of a competition-low 79%.

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Crusaders Colin Slade (77) Jordan Taufua (4) Israel Dagg (537) Matt Todd (99)
Reds Lachlan Turner (20) Samu Kerevi (4) Lachlan Turner (469) Liam Gill (91)

Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Joe Moody, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Richie McCaw, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Jone Macilai.

Reds – 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Chris Feauai-Sautia, 13 Samu Kerevi, 12 Anthony Fainga’a, 11 James O’Connor, 10 Nick Frisby, 9 Will Genia, 8 Jake Schatz, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 James Horwill, 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 James Hanson, 1 James Slipper (c).
Subs: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Sef Fa'agase, 18 Sam Talakai, 19 Marco Kotze, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Scott Gale, 22 Ben Tapuai, 23 Jamie-Jerry Taulagi.

Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images