Preview: Crusaders v Rebels

Date published: July 8 2016

The Crusaders will be looking to keep the pressure on the Chiefs at the top of the New Zealand conference when they host the Rebels in a Super Rugby matchup at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday.

The most successful team in Super Rugby history find themselves in a good position to challenge for the title in the next few weeks as with two games of the regular season left to play they are in second place on the New Zealand conference with 45 points from 13 games which includes ten wins and three losses.

The Rebels come into this game on the back of a 57-31 defeat against the Stormers, however they will be relishing the opportunity to rewrite the history books and become the first team based outside of New Zealand to record back to back victories over the Crusaders after they won the last game played between the two teams in Christchurch last year.

This encounter will be a big milestone for lock Sam Whitelock, who will skipper the Crusaders in his 100th Super Rugby cap for the team as they return to AMI Stadium for the first time in seven weeks.

Meanwhile, Rebels coach Tony McGahan has selected two Victorians in their matchday squad for the first time in the club’s history with the inclusions of outside centre Sione Tuipulotu who forms part of the starting team while Rob Leota earns a place on the bench.

“The inclusion of Sione and Rob is a historic milestone for the Melbourne Rebels and a fitting reward for the hard work of everyone behind the scenes in Victorian Rugby to develop local talent,” said McGahan.

The battle at the breakdown should be an even contest with the Crusaders holding a 94% success rate at the ruck while the Rebels are ranked first in this area of the game with 96%.

Statistics show that the Crusaders look to have the edge at the set-piece. They have a 95% accuracy at the scrum compared to 88% achieved by the Rebels while in the lineout they have won 90% of their throws and the Rebels have won 85% of their lineouts.

The Crusaders are ranked as the top team for the average amount of offloads per a game which currently stands at 15. These statistics are an indication that the Rebels will have to close down the space as the home team like to keep the ball alive and take it through the hands.

The last time the teams met: The Rebels stunned the Crusaders with a 20-10 victory in the opening game of the 2015 Super Rugby season which was played in Christchurch. The Melbourne-based outfit outscored the hosts by two tries to one with Nic Stirzaker and Lopeti Timani both crossing the whitewash for the visitors and Mike Harris contributed with ten points off the boot courtesy of two conversions and two penalties. Ben Funnell crashed over the line for a five pointer for the Crusaders and Dan Carter converted the try and added another three points from the kicking tee. The result was an important one for the Rebels as it was their first ever victory outside of Australia and they were also reduced to 14 players for parts of the game as Stirzaker and Sean McMahon were both sent to the sin-bin at different stages of the match.

Players to watch: Crusaders left wing Nemani Nadolo has terrorised opposition defences this season with his pace and power proving a handful. The big Fijian has produced some remarkable statistics which show that he has beaten 34 defenders in 10 matches and he has provided 23 offloads along with 23 breaks while crossing the whitewash on five occasions. In the forwards, flanker Jordan Taufua has provided his team with a skilful operator at the breakdown and a good link-up between forwards and backs. Taufua has scored four tries for his team in 13 matches which is the most five-pointers scored by a Crusaders forward.

As for the Rebels they will look to inside centre Reece Hodge to continue with his try-scoring exploits which has seen the speedster go in for eight tries from only ten appearances this season. Right wing Sefa Naivalu will also provide some spark to the Rebels attacking game having contributed with five tries from eight appearances. In the forwards, number eight Adam Thomson is an athletic player who will look to take the Rebels over the gain line with some big carries.

Team news: Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder has made four changes to the starting team for this clash. In the forwards, Alex Hodgman replaces Wyatt Crockett at loosehead prop and number eight Jimmy Tupou comes in for captain Kieran Read. In the backs Johnny McNicholl will start on the right wing while Ryan Crotty will line up at outside centre.

Meanwhile, Rebels coach Tony McGahan has made wholesale changes to his matchday squad for the clash against the Crusaders. The seven changes made to the starting line-up sees captain Nic Stirzaker return from injury to take over at scrum-half while tighthead prop Laurie Weeks, number eight Adam Thomson and full-back Mike Harris also slot straight back into the starting team after watching from the side-lines for the past few weeks.Sam Jeffries and run-on debutant Culum Retallick will form the second-row combination while Sione Tuipulotu will wear the number 13 jersey.

Form: The Crusaders find themselves in second place on the New Zealand conference after already picking up 45 points from 13 games which includes ten wins and three losses. The most successful team in the tournaments history suffered a rare loss against the Chiefs in Fiji last weekend, however prior to that game they managed to record back to back victories over the Blues and the Waratahs.

The Rebels on the other hand come into this clash on the back of a poor run of form which has seen them lose four of their last five matches. The Melbourne based team sit on eighth place in the Australasian group with 27 points collected from 13 games which includes a record of six wins and seven losses.

Prediction: The Rebels seem to give the Crusaders plenty of trouble no matter what type of form they find themselves in. This clash could be another close encounter, however the Crusaders should have learned from their past failures against the Rebels and they will know how to approach the game this time round. This matchup will produces some fantastic rugby and there is sure to be plenty of tries. Crusaders to beat the Rebels by ten points.

Previous results:

2015: Rebels won 20-10 in Christchurch
2014: Crusaders won 25-19 in Melbourne
2013: Crusaders won 30-26 in Christchurch
2012: Rebels won 28-19 in Melbourne

The teams:

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Johnny McNicholl, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Jimmy Tupou, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alalaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samo, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitch Hunt,  23 Kieran Fonotia

Rebels: 15 Mike Harris, 14 Sefa Naivalu, 13 Sione Tuipulotu, 12 Reece Hodge, 11 Tom English, 10 Jack Debreczeni, 9 Nic Stirzaker (c), 8 Adam Thomson, 7 Colby Fainga’a, 6 Jordy Reid, 5 Culum Retallick, 4 Sam Jeffries, 3 Laurie Weeks, 2 James Hanson, 1 Toby Smith
Replacements: 16 Pat Leafa, 17 Cruze Ah Nau, 18 Jamie Hagan, 19 Steve Cummins, 20 Rob Leota, 21 Ben Meehan, 22 Paul Asquith, 23 Jonah Placid

Date: Saturday, July 9
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Glen Jackson
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Angus Mabey
TMO: Aaron Paterson