The Waratahs face a daunting task when they take on the Crusaders in what promises to be an entertaining encounter in Christchurch on Friday.
Although the Crusaders’ eight-match winning streak came to an end, when they lost to the Highlanders in Dunedin last weekend, the Waratahs know that they will have deliver a brilliant performance if they want to beat their hosts in front of their fanatical supporters.
Matches between these sides are often tense affairs, and although the men from Sydney have won their last two matches against the Crusaders, both those matches were played in Sydney, they haven’t beaten their opponents in Christchurch since 2004.
That 43-19 victory was also the only time that the 2014 champions have been victorious against the Crusaders on New Zealand soil with the other 11 encounters all going to the the seven-time champions.
The Waratahs will take heart from their previous performance in Christchurch though, when they pushed their hosts all the way before suffering a narrow 23-22 loss.
The Crusaders are a side on a mission, however, and although they lost to the champions last weekend they want to consolidate their position at the top of the New Zealand Conference and the Australian Group.
They are deadlocked on 37 points, alongside the Chiefs and Highlanders, a whopping seven points more than the Waratahs, who are the current Australian Conference leaders.
Despite their blip against the Highlanders, the Crusaders are still one of the tournament’s most potent attacking teams and have the statistics to back up that claim.
They are at the top of the charts for clean breaks (162) and offloads (157) and are third highest for metres gained (4876) and tries scored (44) with only the Chiefs and Hurricanes doing better than them in the two latter departments.
Although the Waratahs are no slouches on attack, it will take a special effort to get the better of Todd Blackadder’s troops in front of their home fans.
The last time these teams met: The Waratahs registered a hard-fought 32-22 victory when these met in their Round 15 clash in Sydney last year. That result was significant as it effectively ruled them out of the running for the play-offs. The Waratahs were in control for most of the match, leading 17-8 at half-time although the Crusaders did well to narrow the gap to 25-22 in the second half. The visitors’ captain Richie McCaw was sent to the sin-bin for a ruck offence which meant they couldn’t complete the comeback, however. Taqele Naiyaravoro (2) Bernard Foley and Rob Horne scored tries for the Waratahs and Foley also kicked three conversions and two penalties. For the Crusaders, Nemani Nadolo, Matt Todd and McCaw crossed the whitewash and Dan Carter added two conversions and a penalty.
Players to watch: All Blacks midfielder Ryan Crotty returns to the Crusaders’ starting line-up and will be expected to provide direction to his side’s attacking play alongside his fly-half Richie Mo’unga. Crotty is usually also at the forefront of the Crusaders’ defensive effort with his organisational skills in this department particularly impressive.
For the Waratahs, keep an eye on young number eight Jed Holloway, who has impressed as a ball carrier this season. When fit, Holloway has kept Wallaby veteran Wycliff Palu on the bench, which is no mean feat, and the 23-year-old is expected to give his side momentum with ball in hand especially from the base of the scrum.
Team news: Crusaders boss Todd Blackadder has made just two changes to his starting line-up despite losing to the Highlanders last weekend. The rotations are at loosehead prop and inside centre, with Joe Moody and Ryan Crotty taking the starting spots, and Wyatt Crockett and David Havili moving to the bench. Scrum-half Andy Ellis will play his 150th Crusaders game. He will be just the third Crusader to reach this milestone (joining Corey Flynn and Crockett).
Waratahs head coach Daryl Gibson has made two changes to his starting line-up after last weekend’s triumph over the Bulls. In the forwards, Wycliff Palu makes way for Jed Holloway at number eight while in the back-line, David Horwitz will start at inside centre after replacing Kurtley Beale. Powerful lock, Will Skelton will reach a half century of games for his home state. Also making his way back into the matchday 23 via the replacements bench is Zac Guildford, who has been injected into the squad after recovering from a broken toe suffered in Round Six.
Form: The Crusaders’ eight match winning streak was halted when they suffered that 34-26 defeat away to the Highlanders. Prior to that, they registered convincing wins over the Jaguares, Brumbies and Reds and had a bye in Round 10.
The Waratahs have impressed recently and last suffered a defeat against the Australian rivals, the Brumbies in Round Eight. Since then, the Sydneysiders have won their last four matches against the Western Force, Stormers, Cheetahs and Bulls.
Prediction: The Crusaders have shown this season they are force to be reckoned with, especially at home. Crusaders to win by eight points.
2015: Waratahs won 32-22 in Sydney
2014: Waratahs won 33-32 in Sydney (Final)
2013: Crusaders won 23-22 in Christchurch
2012: Crusaders won 37-33 in Sydney
2011: Crusaders won 33-18 in Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 20-13 in Christchurch
2009: Crusaders won 17-13 in Sydney
2008: Crusaders won 20-12 in Christchurch (Final)
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Jone Macilai, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mika Alaalatoa, 19 Scott Barrett, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 David Havili, 23 Marty McKenzie
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Dean Mumm, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Davie Dennis, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan
Replacements: 16 Angus Ta’avao, 17 Hugh Roach, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Wycliff Palu, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Matt Carraro, 23 Zac Guildford
Date: Friday, May 20
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Kane McBride
TMO: Chris Wratt