Brumbies flanker David Pocock could frustrate the Crusaders at the breakdown during Saturday's match in Canberra, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Brumbies are currently sixth on the combined log, but could finish the league stage in second place if things go their way. They have the same number of log points as the second-placed Waratahs, who are top of the Australian conference, but one less win (which, as a determining factor, comes before points difference).
Stephen Larkham's side must beat the Crusaders, preferably with a bonus point, to put pressure on the Waratahs, who host the 12th-placed Reds later in the day. But if the Tahs can match or better what the Brumbies achieve on Saturday, they will stay second and host a semi-final.
The Brumbies certainly have the tougher assignment this weekend, even though they have won their past five matches against the Crusaders in Canberra.
As they tend to do, the Saders have finished their campaign strongly with wins against the Hurricanes (35-18) in Nelson and the Blues (34-11) in Auckland. However, they have still failed to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2001 (they can only finish with 46 log points and the Brumbies and Waratahs have 47).
The Brumbies will be hoping the Crusaders play like a team with nothing to play for, although that's unlikely to be the case. Coach Todd Blackadder certainly won't want to finish the season with a loss.
A 33-20 bonus-point win against the Force in Perth last weekend secured the Brumbies' place in the play-offs, with Pocock getting a hat-trick. That took the openside flanker's tally for the season to an impressive seven.
Pocock has also been at his ball-stealing best this year, winning 23 turnovers, the second most in the tournament, and will be aiming to slow down the Crusaders ruck ball on Saturday. Do that and he will deny the Saders backline front-foot ball and reduce their influence on proceedings.
Larkham has named an unchanged Brumbies team for this match. Blackadder, meanwhile, welcomes back No 8 and captain Kieran Read, who missed the Saders' last two matches because of concussion. In other changes, Sam Whitelock will start at No 5 lock, Andy Ellis at scrumhalf, Ryan Crotty at outside centre and Jone Macilai on the right wing.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 13, Brumbies 8
In Canberra: Brumbies 7, Crusaders 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Brumbies have won their last three Super Rugby games and have not managed to win four in a row so far this season.
– The Crusaders have won the last four meetings between these sides, with three of those victories coming by 18-plus points including one by 42 points.
– The Crusaders have averaged more points per game than any other team this season (30), while the Brumbies have conceded the fewest (15).
– The Brumbies boast the best lineout success this season (92%), however the Crusaders have stolen more lineouts per game than any other team (2.5).
– The Brumbies have scored the most tries in the opening quarter of their games this season (15), while the Crusaders have scored the most in the 20 minutes after half-time (20).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Brumbies||Christian Lealiifano (146)||David Pocock (7)||Joe Tomane (633)||Christian Lealiifano (118)|
|Crusaders||Dan Carter (110)||Nemani Nadolo (7)||Nemani Nadolo (868)||Matt Todd (142)|
Brumbies – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Robbie Coleman, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano, 9 Nic White, 8 Ita Vaea, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Blake Enever, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (c), 1 Scott Sio.
Subs: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Ruan Smith, 19 Jordan Smiler, 20 Jarrad Butler, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Matt Toomua, 23 James Dargaville.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Matt Todd, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix