Preview: Waratahs v Crusaders

Date published: May 22 2015

The Waratahs host the Crusaders in Sydney on Saturday in a repeat of last year’s final and with play-off hopes on the line.

With a win over the Sharks last time out, the 'Tahs moved back into the top six, and they could yet earn a home play-off game if they can overhaul the Brumbies.

The Crusaders, on the other hand, face an uphill battle just to reach the post-season, but they did their chances a lot of good last time out with a huge win over the Reds.

The bye probably came at the wrong moment for them, but they will have had plenty of time to prepare for this weekend’s clash.

Last year the 'Tahs claimed their first Super Rugby title with a 33-32 success thanks to Bernard Foley’s late penalty.

That came after a run of 11 straight losses to the Crusaders dating back to 2004, but they could see their own play-off ambitions severely dented in case of defeat.

And centre Adam Ashley-Cooper admits the peaking Crusaders will present major challenge for the defending champions.

“They are starting to come right at this time of year,” explained Ashley-Cooper.

“They always do at the business end. They will be out here to challenge for a really good win."

The last time these team met: Last year’s final was an absolute classic, with the 'Tahs dominating early thanks to a great display from Ashley-Cooper. The centre’s first try helped them into a 14-0 lead but the visitors hit back thanks to a try from Matt Todd. Despite the loss of Dan Carter, the Crusaders were able to take the lead, thanks to Colin Slade and a try from Nemani Nadolo. Ashley-Cooper’s second put the Tahs back in front before Slade’s late penalty looked to have stolen it for the visitors. However Richie McCaw was penalised at a ruck 45 metres out at the death and Foley held his nerve to win it.

Players to watch: Last year Israel Folau was arguably the form player in Super Rugby, but a case can be made that he’s no longer the most dangerous player in the 'Tahs back three. Taqele Naiyaravoro has hit the headlines this week over a move to Glasgow and whether he will be picked by the Wallabies beforehand. While he is still raw, he showed his finishing ability again last week as he powered through two tackles to touch down against the Sharks.

Opposite him will be another Fijian winger in Nemani Nadolo, who was simply unstoppable against the Reds. With a combination of size, power and pace which is pretty much unrivalled, Nadolo is coming into his best form after missing the start of the Super Rugby season. If the 'Tahs give him as much space as the Reds did, they will pay the price.

Team news: It’s an unchanged side for the 'Tahs, who are sticking with the same XV that beat the Sharks last time out. That means Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley continue in the half-backs, while Dave Dennis will skipper the team once more.

The Crusaders, on the other hand, have made five changes to their team, including returns for Richie McCaw and Luke Romano. Owen Franks and Ben Funnell come into the front row while the final change sees Mitchell Drummond get the nod ahead of Andy Ellis at scrum-half.

Form: The Waratahs bounced back from their embarrassing defeat to the Force with a win over the Sharks, but it was tighter than the final scoreline suggested. As it has been for much of the season, their form has been pretty mixed and they aren’t hitting the heights of last season.

The Crusaders needed to impress against the Reds last time out and they did just that, albeit against poor opposition. Prior to that they had gone down to the Hurricanes in Wellington after beating the Blues, but their form is improving.

Prediction: The Crusaders have had so much success over the last decade and a half that they have earned some trust in big games. They really need to win this one to stay in the play-off race, and even though it’s in Sydney, we think they might just do it. Crusaders by 4!

Previous results:

2014: Waratahs won 33-32 in Sydney
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 34-7 in Christchurch
2007: Crusaders won 34-33 in Sydney

The teams:

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 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Dave Dennis (c), 4 Will Skelton, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Benn Robinson
Replacements (one to be omitted): 16 Hugh Roach, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Mitchell Chapman, 20 Jack Dempsey, 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.
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Matt Todd, 21 Andy Ellis, 22 Israel Dagg, 23 Jone Macilai.

Date: Saturday, May 23
Venue: ANZ Stadium, Sydney
Kick-off: 19:40 local (21:40 NZST, 11:40 SAST, 09:40 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen
Assistant Referees: James Leckie, Michael Hogan
TMO: Peter Marshall