The Crusaders will be looking to Richie McCaw as well as several other All Blacks for a big performance against the Blues, writes JON CARDINELLI.
It's finally happened. New Zealand scribes are starting to ask that question about a few senior Test players. There are doubts that McCaw and Dan Carter can still do a job for the All Blacks, given their recent run of form in Vodacom Super Rugby. And yet, McCaw and Carter will have a chance to prove a point in Christchurch this Saturday.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has included six All Blacks in his starting pack. There are five internationals, including the impressive Fijian Nemani Nadolo, in the starting back division. You would expect this Crusaders side to beat the Blues by a comfortable margin.
Blackadder's opposite number, John Kirwan, has come in for a lot of criticism in 2015, and for good reason. After nine matches, the Blues have won just one match. And lest we forget, it took a missed penalty attempt by Brumbies scrumhalf Nic White to hand the Blues that solitary success.
The Crusaders have been inconsistent, but they should be too strong for this Blues side. Kirwan has decided to rest a few All Blacks at this juncture, and the Blues will certainly miss the ball-carrying and defensive contributions of their captain, Jerome Kaino. The absence of Charles Piutau, who is also being rested, will limit the Blues attack.
With Kaino given the week off, Keven Mealamu has been handed the captaincy. The decision to start Mealamu, Tony Woodcock, and Charlie Faumuina in the front row will make for an interesting scrum battle. This is the one area in which the Crusaders have enjoyed sustained success in 2015. The Blues heavies must win this contest if they're to keep the Crusaders in check.
The Crusaders possess an excellent loose trio on paper. Kieran Read is not only one of the best loose forwards in the world, but one of the best players. Jordan Taufua has impressed in 2015. McCaw's reputation speaks for itself, although it must be said that the All Blacks icon is yet to deliver in this year's competition. Blackadder will be hoping that he fires in the coming clash against the Blues.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusaders 14, Blues 11
In Christchurch: Crusaders 9, Blues 3
STATS AND FACTS
– The Crusaders’ 59-12 defeat of the Blues in May 2012 stands as the latter’s record defeat.
– The home side has won the last five instances of this fixture.
– The Crusaders are on a two-match losing streak and one more loss would equal their worst ever sequence. They have lost three matches in a row in a single campaign on just five occasions.
– Despite losing 10 of their last 11 matches, the Blues’ heaviest defeat in this run was a 23-11 loss to the Waratahs and they have snared losing bonuses in seven of these games.
– The Crusaders have scored the most tries from scrums (eight) this season, with the Blues ranking in joint-second with six.
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Crusaders||Dan Carter (69)||Jordan Taufua (3)||Israel Dagg (537)||Matt Todd (80)|
|Blues||Ihaia West (64)||Jerome Kaino (3)||Charles Piutau (677)||Brendon O'Connor (66)|
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 David Havili, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Richie McCaw, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Kieron Fonotia, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Francis Saili, 12 George Moala, 11 Melani Nanai, 10 Dan Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Brendon O’Connor, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c), 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 Matt Moulds, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Angus Ta’avao, 19 Culum Retallick, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jamison Gibson-Park, 22 Ihaia West, 23 Tevita Li
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images