Nemani Nadolo's ability to break tackles and bend the defensive line will ensure the Crusaders hold off the Lions in Christchurch, writes BRENTON CHELIN.
The Crusaders have brought out the big guns for Saturday's match against Johan Ackermann's plucky travellers – none bigger than the 130kg winger. After starring for the Crusaders during last season's run to the final, Nadolo's involvement this year has been delayed by his commitments in Japan.
His return, along with a number of All Blacks starters, means the Crusaders will field a side considerably stronger than the one that capitulated at the hands of the Chiefs last time out. While Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock will add immense value in their respective roles, it's the absence of a hulking ball-carrier in the ilk of Nadolo that's been missing from the Crusaders repertoire.
Robbie Freuan currently leads the way for metres gained, but he will miss the rest of the season with a broken arm. The Lions proved in their momentous victory over the Blues that they are well organised on defence, making Nadolo's ability to breach the line and give the Crusaders forward momentum even more pivotal to the outcome of Saturday's match.
In total, coach Todd Blackadder has made 10 changes to his side, while Dan Carter returns from injury at inside centre. His struggles for form and fitness have been well publicised, but he still remains a gifted ball player and should give the Crusaders an extra dimension on attack.
In stark contrast, the Lions have kept faith with the side that got the job done against the Blues, with Marnitz Boshoff coming onto the bench in the only change to the match-day squad.
The Lions were heroic in their victory against the Blues, but will need to offer more on attack if they're to trouble the Crusaders on their own turf. Ackermann's side have managed just seven clean breaks in four matches so far this season.
The Sharks showed last season that it's within the realms of possibility to defeat the Crusaders in Christchurch, but the Lions will need to take every opportunity on offer, while shutting down the rampaging Fijian and an assortment of All Blacks stars.
HEAD TO HEAD*
Overall: Crusaders 11, Lions 4
In Christchurch: Crusaders 5, Lions 1
*Includes results from Cats franchise (1998-2005)
STATS AND FACTS
– The Lions have the opportunity to win on consecutive weekends in New Zealand for the first time since April 2001.
– Since the Lions beat the Crusaders in Christchurch in 2001, the New Zealand side have won 34 out of 35 games at home against South African teams; a five-point defeat against the Sharks last season is the only blemish on the Crusaders’ record during that run.
– The Crusaders have lost their opening home game twice in the last three seasons, but have gone on to win their next home game on each occasion; the last time the Christchurch side lost their first two home games in a season was in 2004.
– The Crusaders have the best scrum success rate in the competition so far this season (96%); in their three games this season they have lost just one scrum on their own feed.
– The Lions are the only team this season to average fewer than one try per game (0.8); the Johannesburg team also average just 1.75 clean breaks per game; the lowest in Super Rugby this season.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Crusaders||Colin Slade (27)||Andrew Ellis, Ben Funnell, Johnny McNicholl, Scott Barrett (1)||Robbie Freuan (188)||Matt Todd (43)|
|Lions||Elton Jantjies (22)||Ruan Combrinck (2)||Andries Coetzee (150)||Warren Whiteley (56)|
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Luke Whitelock, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 David Havili.
Lions – 15 Andries Coetzee, 14 Ruan Combrinck, 13 Lionel Mapoe, 12 Harold Vorster, 11 Sampie Mastriet, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Warren Whiteley (c), 7 Warwick Tecklenburg, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Martin Muller, 4 Franco Mostert, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Robbie Coetzee, 1 Corné Fourie.
Subs: 16 Armand van der Merwe, 17 Jacques van Rooyen, 18 Ruan Dreyer, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Derick Minnie, 21 Faf de Klerk, 22 Marnitz Boshoff, 23 Howard Mnisi.
Photo: Joosep Martinson/Getty Images