S15 Preview: Chiefs v Crusaders

Thu, 25 Jul 2013 18:11
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Kiwi bragging rights and a spot in the final will be on the line when the Chiefs and the Crusaders meet in Hamilton on Saturday.

Kiwi bragging rights and a spot in the final will be on the line when the Chiefs and the Crusaders meet in Hamilton on Saturday.

The match is an exact replay of last year's semifinal which saw the Chiefs take a narrow three-point victory before going on to lift their maiden Super Rugby title, and with each team having beaten the other once this season it looks set to be a classic.

The Chiefs earned their homeground advantage and an extra week off by finishing on top of the log, but they still enter this match as the underdogs due to the considerable momentum the Crusaders have built up in the last few weeks.

The seven-time champions have hit their straps at exactly the right time, with a couple of resounding victories in the run-in to this semifinal, and if any team has what it takes to win away from home at the business-end of the season it is them.

Whilst their demolition of the Reds in their play-off in Christchurch last week is freshest in the memory, their recent 43-15 victory over the defending champions is perhaps more significant.

Chiefs fans will point to the fact that their team emerged victorious the last time the teams played each other in Hamilton, and the valuable rest they enjoyed having skipped the play-off last week.

However, Crusaders supporters will argue that their team is settled and full of confidence thanks to their romp against the jaded Reds last week, whilst Chiefs coach Dave Rennie has made seven changes to his side who are coming in 'cold' following their break last week.

Although they are the most successful team in the history of Super Rugby, the Crusaders have crashed out in the knock-out stages for the last few years, so they will be keen to capitalise their good form in the games that matter most.

The Canterbury side are always strong in the set-pieces, but perhaps even more impressive the last time the sides met was the way they were able to dominate the breakdown against the Chiefs who pride themselves in that area.

Having done the business last year, there is not much chance of the Chiefs being overwhelmed by the visitors' considerable pedigree, and they will know that victory will give them an excellent chance of making it consecutive titles as their opponents in the final will have to travel all the way from Pretoria.

It all makes for an intriguing clash between the two sides that have dominated the New Zealand conference in recent years, with solid cases to be made for both teams.

Players to watch:

For the Chiefs: The young duo of Ben Tameifuna and Brodie Retallick will have to step up if the Chiefs are to compete in the tight exchanges, whilst both also have the ability to make an impact in open play. Liam Messam will want to set the tone at the breakdown in order to set a decent platform for flyhalf Aaron Cruden, and fullback Gareth Anscombe could have a major role to play on his return from injury.

For the Crusaders: Prop Owen Franks and lock Sam Whitelock have been two of the most consistent performers in the competition this season, and they will look to captain Kirean Read to carry the ball up all night. In the backline the stars for the Crusaders in the last few weeks have been the All Black duo of Dan Carter and Israel Dagg, but Tom Marshall and Ryan Crotty have also proved their worth.

Head to head: There will be hige match-ups all over the park in something of an All Black trial ahead of the Rugby Championship. The battle between Wyatt Crockett and Ben Tameifuna at scrum-time will be colossal and in the second row all eyes will be on Sam Whitelock and Brodie Retallick. Young openside flanks Sam Cane and Matt Todd will both want to show that they deserve to eventually take over from Richie McCaw, who will also have a say when he comes off the bench. The flyhalf duel between Carter and Cruden will be an obvious focus point, and it will also be interesting to see how Anscombe measures up to Dagg at the back.

Recent results:
2013: Crusaders won 43-15 in Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 28-19 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 20-17 in Hamilton
2012: Crusaders won 28-21 in Hamilton
2012: Chiefs won 24-19 in Napier
2011: Crusaders won 25-19 in Napier
2011: Crusaders won 34-16 in Tauranga
2010: Crusaders won 26-19 in Hamilton
2009: Crusaders won 19-13 in Christchurch
2008: Chiefs won 18-5 in Hamilton

Prediction: There really is little to choose between the teams, and although the Chiefs are playing at home the Crusaders' formidable recent form has been too good to ignore so we are backing them to take this one by about three points.

Teams:

Chiefs:
15 Gareth Anscombe, 14 Lelia Masaga, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Andrew Horrell, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Toby Smith.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Sam Cane, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Bundee Aki, 22 Robbie Robinson.

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Luke Whitelock, 19 Richie McCaw, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Date: Saturday, July 27
Venue: Waikato Stadium, Hamilton
Kick-off: 19.35 (17.35 NSW/ACT; 07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: Partly cloudy. 10 degrees celsius with a light wind
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Glen Jackson (New Zealand), Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

By Michael de Vries

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Pool AU
Team P W D L Pts
Waratahs 11 6 0 5 30
Brumbies 11 7 0 4 29
Rebels 10 5 0 5 23
Reds 13 3 1 9 16
Force 11 2 0 9 11
Pool NZ
Team P W D L Pts
Chiefs 11 9 0 2 42
Crusaders 11 9 0 2 41
Highlanders 11 8 0 3 37
Hurricanes 11 7 0 4 36
Blues 11 6 1 4 29
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Team P W D L Pts
Bulls 11 7 1 3 32
Stormers 11 6 1 4 32
Cheetahs 11 3 0 8 16
Sunwolves 11 1 1 9 9
Pool SA2
Team P W D L Pts
Lions 11 8 0 3 37
Sharks 12 7 1 4 35
Jaguares 11 2 0 9 13
Kings 11 1 0 10 4