The Crusaders travel to Sydney for their first match since the Mosque massacre in Christchurch which took the lives of 50 innocent people, the men in Red and Black will attempt to bring some temporary joy to their city by notching their 20th straight win and extend their lead at the top of the Super Rugby ladder. The Waratahs were left licking their wounds following their disappointing loss to the Brumbies last week, but back at the temporary home of the SCG and against the best in the business Daryl Gibson will know there will be no bigger opportunity to turn their 2019 form around and prove the doubters wrong.
Despite sitting at 2 wins – 2 losses the Waratahs have been disappointing in 2019. Their two wins include a very fortunate 1-point win over the Sunwolves and a 9-point win over the Queensland Reds in a game where they held just 32% of possession. Last week they were deservedly beaten by a Brumbies side who looked hungrier in the nation’s capital. Despite all the big names their backlines attack has looked clunky and unless the forwards start getting over the advantage line more regularly the opportunities will remain limited.
While the Waratahs attack has looked average this season, the Crusaders looked anything but in their last in which they scored 58 points against the Chiefs. Despite sharing the points last weekend with the Highlanders, they remain 4 points clear on the top of the Super Rugby ladder and will be looking to keep their current record undefeated streak alive by reaching 20 on the trot. The corresponding fixture last year was an instant classic with the Waratahs racing out to a 29-point lead after just 28 minutes in Christchurch before the Crusaders gradually clawed them back and a penalty try in the 69th minute saw them take the match winning lead, with the game finishing 31 – 29.
Sam Whitelock vs Rob Simmons
For all the talk about the two flashy backlines, this game will inevitably be won up front. The Crusaders possess perhaps the bets tight 5 in the competition and the return of All Black Sam Whitlock only strengthens their engine room. Rob Simmons has been patchy in 2019, he followed up his huge performance against the Reds with a disappointing display in Canberra last weekend. With a number of locks putting their hands up across the 4 Aussie Super Rugby sides Simmons will need to lift his game If he wants to wear a gold jersey this year.
Jack Goodhue vs Adam Ashley-Cooper
It’s a case of old vs new out wide at the SCG come Saturday night, with the vastly experienced Adam Ashley-Cooper facing off against youngster Jack Goodhue. bursting onto the scene in 2017 the 23-year-old Goodhue has been a revelation outside Ryan Crotty for the Crusaders and his form saw him catapulted into the All Blacks starting 13 jersey throughout 2018. He remains the front runner to start there come the world cup, but with an abundance of centre options at Steve Hansens disposal there isn’t much room for error for the 98kg blondie. It’s a very different situation for Adam Ashley-Cooper, who has returned home to Sydney in 2019 in an attempt to play in his 4th Rugby World Cup. His return has been solid, yet unspectacular so far and if he is serious about boarding flight QF25 to Tokyo he really needs to find that line-busting form that helped lead NSW to the 2014 championship and made him one of the most feared centres in World Rugby.
Just the 2 reactionary changes from Daryl Gibson who has opted for the experience of Nick Phipps at halfback as well as the explosiveness of Cam Clark on the wing. Jake Gordan drops back to the Waratahs bench which also includes 2018 forward of the year Micheal Wells who has been welcomed back this week from 7s duties. Karmicheal Hunt has passed a fitness test and will also make his way back into the side via the bench. It’s a big night for West Harbour hooker Andrew Tuala who is set to make his debut from the bench following the immediate return of Tatafu Polata-Nau to Leicster midweek.
The Crusaders have made just the two changes as well for Saturday nights encounter, with Richie Mo’unga and Scott Barrett getting a well-deserved rest. They will be replaced by Brett Cameron. and Quinten Strange respectively.
WARATAHS: Israel Folau, Cam Clark, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Kurtley Beale, Alex Newsome, Bernard Foley, Nick Phipps, Jack Dempsey, Michael Hooper (c), Ned Hanigan, Rob Simmons, Jed Holloway, Sekope Kepu, Damien Fitzpatrick, Harry Johnson-Holmes
Reserves: Andrew Tuala, Rory O’Connor, Chris Talakai, Lachlan Swinton, Michael Wells, Jake Gordon, Mack Mason, Karmichael Hunt
CRUSADERS: David Havili, Braydon Ennor, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Brett Cameron, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (c), Quinten Strange, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, George Bower
Reserves: Andrew Makalio, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Ere Enari, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan
Referee: Jaco Peyper (SA)
There have been some absolute cracker matches between these two rivals over the years, and hopefully Saturday night is another one to savour. I am expecting a vast improvement from the Waratahs but ultimately an in-form and emotionally charged Crusaders team should prove too much for the New South Welshmen on Saturday night.
Crusaders by 6