Preview - Crusaders v Waratahs - Green and Gold Rugby
NSW Waratahs

Preview – Crusaders v Waratahs

Israel Folau - is set for his biggest challenge yet at outside centre against the Crusaders
Preview – Crusaders v Waratahs

The current leaders of the New Zealand and Australian Conferences square off in Christchurch on Friday in a match with potentially dire consequences for the loser.

As it stands

Not only did the Crusaders’ loss last week end an eight-match winning streak, but it also denied them an opportunity to put a break on the Chiefs, and allowed the Highlanders to draw level. With the Hurricanes just a point further back, whichever of that group loses next will find it tough to catch up, much less secure top ranking.

The Waratahs, meanwhile, find themselves just a point ahead of the Brumbies (but six adrift of the Hurricanes) and probably needing four wins to ensure qualification for the quarter-finals. With the Chiefs up next, and Hurricanes and Blues in the last two weeks of the regular season, a win on Friday would be a huge boost to their prospects. A loss, while not fatal to those prospects, will likely make every remaining match a must-win.

 Joe Moody – probably the best loose head prop in New Zealand now

Set piece and breakdown

The Crusaders scrum and lineout continue to impress. Joe Moody is now probably the best loose head prop in New Zealand, and Scott Barrett is emerging as a quality lock with a big future. Throw their other All Blacks Crockett, Franks, Taylor, Romano, Whitelock and Read, and AB prospects Barrett and Taufua into the mix and there’s no doubt their pack is the Crusaders’ strength.

The Waratahs are no slouches up front, either, with scrum and lineout success percentages not that far behind those of their hosts. If there’s a criticism it’s that some of the big units don’t always seem to do a lot of what big units are meant to do around the park. It also has to be said that both Polota-Nau and Palu look past their best, as starters at least, although Palu did have his best game in some time against the Bulls last week.

Halves and midfield

Pre-season I wrote that Richie Mo’unga had to really step up for the Crusaders in the 10 jersey, and that the midfield was worryingly thin without Crotty and Fruean.

After looking somewhat lost at first, Mo’unga now looks like he may yet live up to the wraps he’s had on him since high school. The midfield, though, continues to be a concern. Last week Faddes of the Highlanders joined the list of players to tear it apart multiple times; Israel Folau simply can’t be allowed to do the same.

Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley continue to be Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley, and divide opinion accordingly, but the Waratahs do look a far more purposeful and threatening outfit with them at 9 and 10, and to fall away somewhat when they’re not.

The loss of Kurtley Beale is obviously a huge blow for the Waratahs – at times this year he’s looked like he’s worth his alleged Wasps salary – and his absence will no doubt force a rethink of how and where the Tahs choose to attack.

 Israel Dagg – in top-notch form

Back three

One of the more pleasing things about 2016 from a Crusaders’ point of view has been the return from injury of Israel Dagg, who has quickly re-established himself as a top-notch 15. They will again be without Nemani Nadolo (this being week four of his four week ban), but Jone Macilai and the sometimes-maligned Johnny McNicholl have done well enough in his absence.

Andrew Kellaway looks a player of the future and in Matt Carraro, Rob Horne and Reece Robinson the Tahs have some handy wing options, although none appeals as a game-breaker.

Why should I bother?

Read the opening again.  The result of this game could end the season for one team and start favouritism for the other to win their conference.

It will be packed with drama – don’t miss it.

Prediction

The ‘Waratahs will take some putting away, but I think the Crusaders will take this one.

Crusaders by 10

 Jed Holloway – fit enough to play
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Teams & details

The Crusaders have made two changes: Joe Moody replaces Wyatt Crockett at loose head prop, and Ryan Crotty starts instead David Havili at second-five.  This looks more like a rotation than punishment for the last-up loss. Andy Ellis, who midweek announced he won’t be back in 2017, becomes just the third Crusader after Corey Flynn and Crockett to bring up 150 appearances.

The Waratahs have replaced Kurtley Beale with David Horwitz in the run-on team, as expected, and winger Zac Guildford, back from injury, will take his place in the reserves.  No. 8 Jed Holloway is also fit enough to play and will start instead of Wycliff Palu, who will be on the bench instead of Ned Hanigan.

Crusaders

1. Wyatt Crockett
2. Codie Taylor
3. Owen Franks
4. Luke Romano
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jordan Taufua
7. Matt Todd
8. Kieran Read (c)
9. Andy Ellis
10. Richie Mo’unga
11. Jone Macilai
12. Ryan Crotty
13. Kieron Fonotia
14. Johnny McNicholl
15. Israel Dagg


Reserves:
16. Ged Robinson
17. Wyatt Crockett
18. Mike Ala’alatoa
19. Scott Barrett
20. Tim Boys
21. Mitchell Drummond
22. David Havili
23. Marty McKenzie

Waratahs

1. Paddy Ryan
2. Tatafu Polota-Nau
3. Tom Robertson
4. Dave Dennis
5. Will Skelton
6. Dean Mumm
7. Michael Hooper (c)
8. Jed Holloway
9. Nick Phipps
10. Bernard Foley
11. Rob Horne
12. David Horwitz
13. Israel Folau
14. Reece Robinson
15. Andrew Kellaway


Reserves:
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


Details

Date: Friday, May 14


Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch


Kick-off: 17.35 AEST


Referee: Jaco Peyper


Assistant referees: Jaco van Heerden, Kane McBride


TMO: Chris Wratt


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