Preview: Crusaders v Brumbies

Date published: May 2 2014

The Crusaders know a defeat to the Brumbies could see them lose key ground on the pace-setting trio in New Zealand's conference.

The Crusaders know that a defeat to the Brumbies on Saturday could lead to them losing ground on the pace-setters in New Zealand's conference.

With the Hurricanes, Chiefs and Highlanders well capable of picking up victories in their respective fixtures this weekend, the prospect of playing catch-up for the season run-in in a tight play-off race will then be the task for Todd Blackadder's men, who enter this clash following a bye.

In all honesty, that round off probably came at the worst time for the Crusaders after their away win against the Chiefs as they would have wanted momentum in this closely-fought conference. If you are not aware, just six points separates the five Kiwi franchises after eleven rounds of action.

Super Rugby historians will immediately point to the fact the Crusaders are notorious slow starters and usually find form at the business end, but there still remains question marks over this team, with it not possessing the same quality in each position as years gone by. Conjecture of course.

Losing number eight Kieran Read to concussion is again a significant blow, especially against this Brumbies pack and while Richie McCaw's comeback cushions Read's absence somewhat, the All Blacks skipper is not match fit so senior players such as Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks must be dominant.

As mentioned, the hosts go up against a strong Brumbies eight whose spine of Stephen Moore, Scott Fardy and Ben Mowen is second to none. Meanwhile, Nic White and Matt Toomua are pushing their cases for regular starts in the Rugby Championship and on this form, Ewen McKenzie must be considering them at nine and ten as the balance of power seems to have shifted from Queensland to Canberra. Toomua though will start, probably at 12.

His two scores last week against the Chiefs were mirrored by Tevita Kuridrani in a result that will give them extra confidence against a side they haven't beaten since 2009. But, the general consensus is that the Brumbies haven't had a better opportunity to end the drought.

The visitors will look to employ the same structured yet expansive gameplan that has caught rivals napping early in games and if they do – as they have on several occasions – score early, one struggles to see the Crusaders unlocking the Australians with x-factor in the backline. It would then become an arm-wrestle, throwing in the power of Nemani Nadolo, which we cannot see being enough as a possible third loss in four on home soil looms.

Previous results:

2013: Crusaders won 30-23 in Canberra
2011: Crusaders won 52-10 in Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 40-22 in Christchurch
2009: Brumbies won 18-16 in Canberra

Prediction: The visitors to end a five-year wait. Brumbies by 5!

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Samuel Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Corey Flynn, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Nafi Tuitavake.

Brumbies: 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Joe Tomane, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Christian Lealiifano, 11 Robbie Coleman, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Nic White, 8 Ben Mowen (c), 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Jordan Smiler, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Scott Fardy, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Scott Sio.
Replacements: 16 Siliva Siliva, 17 Ruan Smith, 18 Ruaidhri Murphy, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Tom McVerry, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Pat McCabe.

Date: Saturday, May 3
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 16:35 local (05:35 BST, 04:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant Referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)