Preview: Brumbies v Crusaders

Date published: June 12 2015

Top spot in the Australian Conference is on the line for the Brumbies as they host the Crusaders in Canberra.

The Crusaders' hopes of making the Super Rugby Finals Series are over but for the Brumbies there are various permutations stemming from what happens in the final round of results this weekend.

Currently tied with the Waratahs at 47 points, the Brumbies are in second in the Australian Conference by virtue of holding fewer wins than last year's champions going into the final round.

A win for Stephen Larkham's side and defeats for the Stormers and Waratahs would see the Brumbies take second place and secure a home semi-final along with a bye for next week's matches, although the chances of that all happening are slim.

Requiring favours from the Reds and Sharks isn't an ideal situation for the 2013 finalists but failing that the Brumbies are also in contention to secure a home draw in the wildcard matches next weekend if their plans to make the top two fall through.

Look too far ahead however and the Brumbies could be caught out by the Crusaders, with the two teams having won nine of the 18 Super Rugby championships since the tournament began in 1996, althought neither side has triumphed since 2008.

Losing Matt Toomua to injury has forced the Brumbies to rely on their forwards for tries, with David Pocock scoring a second hat-trick of the year in last weekend's win over the Force.

As a result the Brumbies have ranked near the bottom for carries, offloads, metres and defenders beaten, despite scoring the fifth-highest number of tries in the competition.

No side has a better line-out in the Super Rugby, although the Brumbies scrum has really struggled with only an 82 percent success rate.

The Crusaders on the other hand will be left wondering what might have been after their slow start to the season crippled their chances of success.

Despite the threat of Nemani Nadolo out wide, who has been sensational with the most clean breaks in the competition and seven tries, inconsistency has plagued Todd Blackadder's side all season.

Dan Carter's return to the fly-half role has come too little too late as he and Richie McCaw bow out on glittering careers in the competition looking for one last victory.

In contrast to the Brumbies they possess the second-best scrum in Super Rugby, which could be a valuable source of points for Carter's boot as the Crusaders look to sign off with a ninth win of the year from 16 games.

The last time these teams met: In May last year the Crusaders thrashed the Brumbies 40-20 in Christchurch, with Colin Slade scoring 23 points and tries coming from Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo and Luke Whitelock. Stephen Moore and Pat McCabe were the scorers for the visitors.

Players to watch: The return from injury of Scott Sio is big news for the Brumbies as he works his way back into form after an excellent start to the year. Useful around the field with his ball-carrying, Sio had made strides as a scrummager over the last two years but a battle with All Blacks tighthead Owen Franks will be a measure of just how far he has come. Flying winger Henry Speight is another to keep an eye on.

For the Crusaders we salute Richie McCaw and Dan Carter in their final games of Super Rugby, with McCaw making his 145th appearance in the competition. Both have a big year to come with the Rugby World Cup in England but they have also been so consistent for the Crusaders that the side will feel very strange without them in 2016. David Havili meanwhile is just starting out for the side but has made an impact since his move to inside centre. 

Team news: Stephen Larkham has named an unchanged Brumbies side to take on the Crusaders. There is a welcome return on the bench for the Brumbies, with Matt Toomua back fit after an ankle injury but that is the only change to the matchday squad.

The Crusaders welcome skipper Kieran Read back into their starting XV. Sam Whitelock also returns to the starting line-up this week after coming off the bench against the Blues. Jimmy Tupou takes his place in the reserves. Andy Ellis will be the starting scrum-half and Billy Guyton may get to make his Crusaders debut if he comes off the bench. Ryan Crotty will start at outside centre in place of the injured Robbie Fruean and Jone Macilai returns to the right wing.  

Form: The Brumbies have won their last three matches against the Lions, Bulls and Force to strengthen their play-off credentials going into the final round. Their defence has been exceptional, conceding the fewest tries in the competition with a remarkable 17 (the next best is the Chiefs total of 24). The Brumbies have won 71 percent of their matches at home in 2015.

As for the Crusaders, they are looking to make it three wins in a row for the first time this season after defeating the Hurricanes and Blues. Failing to achieve that consistency earlier in the campaign has been their downfall, although they have scored the second-highest number of tries in the competition with 52.

Prediction: If the Brumbies pack can't get on top then they may have problems, but their maul has been outstanding in recent weeks. We're backing the home side in a tight affair. Brumbies by 5!

Previous results:

2014: Crusaders won 40-20 in Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 30-23 in Canberra 
2011: Crusaders won 52-10 in Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 40-22 in Christchurch

The teams:

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.
Replacements: 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.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Alex Hodgman, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Billy Guyton, 22 Colin Slade, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Date: Saturday, June 13
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 15:30 local (05:30 GMT, 17:30 NZST, 07:30 SAST)
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)