Jordan Taufua will have an important role to play if the Crusaders are to win the physical battle against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
The rematch of last year's final, won 33-32 by the Waratahs, is a vital one for both sides. The Tahs currently occupy the sixth and last play-off spot with 36 log points, while the Crusaders are ninth, with 31 points, and in danger of failing to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2001.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika said earlier this week that it's going to be a 'war zone' and 'battlefield' on Saturday, adding that his side will have to match the Crusaders physically.
Unfortunately for the Tahs, they will be without injured flanker Jacques Potgieter, who has been one of their best ball-carriers, with Stephan Hoiles starting on the blindside for the second consecutive week. Hoiles is not as physical as Potgieter and by his own admission plays more of a supporting role.
He will be up against Taufua, who does have a big physical presence. The 23-year-old carries the ball strongly, wins the collisions more often than not, and offloads well in the tackle. He has made five clean breaks this season and scored five tries, while also forcing 15 turnovers (the fifth-most in the competition).
If Taufua plays to his potential on Saturday, the Crusaders will win that physical battle and probably the match too.
The Saders have made five changes to the team that thrashed the Reds 58-17 in Brisbane two weeks ago. Hooker Ben Funnell, tighthead prop Owen Franks, No 4 lock Luke Romano, openside flank Richie McCaw and scrumhalf Mitchell Drummond all come into the starting lineup, with All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg set to make his return from a six-week injury layoff off the bench.
The Tahs have stuck with the starting XV that beat the Sharks 33-18 last Saturday, with loose forward Jack Dempsey replacing Tala Gray on the bench.
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: Crusasders 16, Waratahs 5
In Sydney: Crusaders 5, Waratahs 4
STATS AND FACTS
– The last time these sides met was the 2014 final when the Waratahs won by a single point and in doing so ended a run of 11 defeats against the Crusaders (including two play-off defeats).
– Five of the last six games between these sides have been settled by seven points or fewer.
– The Crusaders won their last game against the Reds but have only won back-to-back games once this season, back in mid-March.
– The Crusaders have passed the ball more than any other team this season, averaging 172 per game, while the Waratahs rank second in that regard (158).
– Three of the tournament’s top-four carriers play for the Waratahs – Kurtley Beale (174), Israel Folau (172) and Bernard Foley (140).
|Team||Top point-scorer||Top try-scorer||Most metres gained||Most tackles|
|Waratahs||Bernard Foley (122)||Taqele Naiyaravoro (5)||Israel Folau (1,193)||Michael Hooper (138)|
|Crusaders||Colin Slade (100)||Nemani Nadolo, Andrew Ellis, Jordan Taufua (4)||Nemani Nadolo (682)||Matt Todd (112)|
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Stephan Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs (one to be omitted): 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Tala Gray, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Matt Carraro, 24 Peter Betham.
Crusaders – 15 Tom Taylor, 14 Nafi Tuitavake, 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 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Israel Dagg, 23 Jone Macilai.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant referees: James Leckie, Michael Hogan
TMO: Peter Marshall
Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images