JON CARDINELLI looks at the key match-ups ahead of the Vodacom Super Rugby final between the Crusaders and Jaguares in Christchurch.
GOODHUE vs DE LA FUENTE
The Crusaders will miss Ryan Crotty in the midfield this week. The All Blacks inside centre injured his thumb in the semi-final and will be sidelined for some time.
The Crusaders backline struggled to contain the Hurricanes’ attack following Crotty’s departure. While Goodhue has developed into one of the best outside centres in world rugby, a 10-12 axis that features Richie Mo’unga and Goodhue remains a defensive weak point for the Crusaders.
Will the Jaguares exploit that vulnerability? Jerome de la Fuente hasn’t been the most explosive centre on show this season, and overall the Argentinians have favoured a strategy that harnesses their kicking strengths.
De la Fuente and his fellow backs may battle to contain the Crusaders runners in midfield and in the wider channels. If the home pack fires and Mo’unga receives a steady supply of front-foot ball, we may see Braydon Ennor and Sevu Reece making inroads into that Jaguares defence.
MO’UNGA vs DIAZ BONILLA
Mo’unga showed that he has the full range of skills in the recent semi-final against the Hurricanes. The Crusaders played a smart tactical game in the first half – with the All Blacks flyhalf pulling the strings – and then shifted into attacking gear in the second.
The Hurricanes did enjoy some success when they won the collisions and then hit the gainline flat. The Jaguares have many players with the appetite for a scrap in midfield, and they can be dangerous after breaking the line – as their try tally indicates.
Joaquin Diaz Bonilla – or ‘Tito’ as he is affectionately known in Argentina – has had a fantastic season. The Jaguares flyhalf is ranked second for kicks from hand and kick metres, and one would expect him to favour a drive for territory in the decider.
Poor kicking, of course, will play into the hands of the Crusaders. Reece, George Bridge and David Havili have shown that they have the ability to win the high ball and that they can be devastatingly effective on the counter-attack.
WHITELOCK vs PETTI
Sam Whitelock made an influential play at the end of the semi-final. The Crusaders skipper reached over the top of the ruck and knocked the ball out of Hurricanes scrumhalf TJ Perenara’s hands. The referee missed the incident and the Crusaders won back possession.
Some have denounced Whitelock’s act as cheating. Others have labelled the play ‘street-smart’. The bottom line is that Whitelock did what he needed to do to get his team into the final.
One would expect both sets of forwards to push the boundaries in this manner (see Todd vs Creevy below). The breakdown and offside line aside, the Crusaders aren’t above taking players out off the ball. The Jaguares have a reputation for over-robust play, although their discipline has improved over the past season.
The Jaguares should look to disrupt the Crusaders at the lineout. According to FoxSportsLab, the Argentinians boast the fourth-best lineout in the tournament and are the top-ranked side in terms of lineout steals. The Crusaders are at a mediocre eighth for lineout wins.
Guido Petti is joint-second for lineout wins. More significantly, he is the top-ranked player for lineout steals. The Jaguares No 4 will have a key role to play for the visitors this Saturday.
TODD vs CREEVY
The breakdown battle has never been as simple as the contest between the respective openside flankers. And in the coming final, the most dangerous player on the park – at least in this discipline – could be the Jaguares hooker.
Agustin Creevy refuses to be put in a box. The former Pumas captain competes at the breakdown like a specialist fetcher and runs like a centre. His ability to offload in contact is another team-enhancing strength.
Creevy has made more pilfers than any other player in this year’s Super Rugby tournament (seven). He does occasionally get it wrong at the breakdown, though, and it will be interesting to see how much of a contest referee Jaco Peyper allows this Saturday.
Peyper would do well to keep an eye on the Crusaders and Matt Todd in particular. The openside flank is a master at slowing the ball down at the breakdown and allowing his defence to reset.
While he doesn’t rank among the top poachers, Todd’s game-shaping influence in this area should not be underestimated.
MOODY vs MEDRANO
RIP the Bajada. The Argentinians are no longer the world’s scrummaging leaders, and the 2019 stats tell a story of a set piece that has struggled to hold its own.
Tighthead prop Santiago Medrano has conceded the most penalties (17) in this year’s Super Rugby tournament. Loosehead Mayco Vivas is also among the top 10 offenders. The Jaguares have battled in this area and another poor performance may cost them dearly in the final.
The Crusaders have a formidable set piece. According to Opta, the Cantabrians have scored 40 of their 81 tries from first phase – more than any other team.
That said, they’ve conceded plenty of penalties at the scrum this season, with Joe Moody (14) and Michael Alaalatoa (13) often the guilty parties.
Perhaps the Crusaders won’t have everything their own way in this department on Saturday. Again, much will depend on how Peyper views the contest, and which team adapts to the referee’s interpretation.
The Crusaders have shown that they can adjust their tactics over the course of a game. One would expect them to emerge from this contest with a win and to claim their third-successive title.
Crusaders – 15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Braydon Ennor, 12 Jack Goodhue, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Mitchell Dunshea, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Subs: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Will Jordan.
Jaguares – 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente (c), 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Joaquin Diaz Bonilla, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Subs: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Sebastian Cancelliere.
Photos: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images/Steve Haag/Gallo Images