Preview: Crusaders v Chiefs

Thu, 27 Jul 2017 20:26

SUPER RUGBY SEMIFINAL: The question was finally answered in Wellington on July 15, when the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders to end a 14-match winning streak.

For five months people wanted to know if anybody could beat the rampaging Crusaders. The Hurricanes showed they are not invincible.

It was also the Hurricanes who last beat the Crusaders in Christchurch - in July last year.

The Chiefs, who also beat the Crusaders in Christchurch in February last year, will take heart from these facts.

No doubt it is going to be a huge all-New Zealand derby, given that a place in the Final is on the line - with the Crusaders bidding for a record eight Super Rugby titles.

Both teams come into this game off the back of solid performances in their respective quarterfinals.

The Crusaders held their nerve to defeat their southern rivals, the Highlanders, 17-0 off the back of a dominant forward pack in monsoon-like conditions in Christchurch last Saturday.

The Chiefs left Cape Town 17-11 victors, after a brutal arm-wrestle with the Stormers.

There's a great rivalry between the Crusaders and the Chiefs, with two epic semifinals played out in recent years that will live long in the memories of Chiefs fans.

In 2012 and 2013 the Chiefs hosted the Crusaders in back-to-back home semifinals - with the Chiefs winning 20-17 and 20-19.

Departing All Black flyhalf Aaron Cruden played crucial roles in both games, and will be looking to assert that valuable experience on Saturday.

Damian McKenzie is the other big threat to the Crusaders, as he leads the competition charts with 1565 metres from 223 carries.

McKenzie has accumulated 132 points this campaign and will be looking to add to that tally tonight. Brodie Retallick has been another ever present in the forward pack. The big lock has been crucial in defence, boasting a 93.2% tackle completion rate, making over 124 tackles.

The Crusaders will again rely or their gargantuan pack to lay the platform for their 12th appearance in a Final.

The all-All Black tight five of captain Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor and Joe Moody is what carried the can for them in testing conditions last week.

However, should the conditions allow, they have an exciting backline that features the likes of Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, Israel Dagg and David Havili.

Flyhalf Richie Mo'unga has done a great job at directing the Crusaders backline in 2017, and has managed an impressive 116 points from the 11 games he's played.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said their previous two defeats to the Chiefs in play-off matches will count for nothing, as it was a different times and different circumstances.

"They used their home ground advantage on those occasions," he said of the defeats in 2012 and 2013.

"However, this time we have earned the chance to play in front of our own supporters and that means a lot to us," Robertson added.

"To see so many of our supporters still come out to the game last weekend in such miserable conditions was humbling, so that is even more motivation for the team to put on a performance to make the fans proud."

Chiefs coach Dave Rennie is adamant home ground advantage won't count for much this week, as it is play-off rugby.

"We've had success down there in the past," Rennie said.

"We know we're playing a really good side who's probably been the form team, but we'll back ourselves."

While the Chiefs have had to endure an arduous travel schedule - crossing the Indian Ocean twice in a week - it hasn't been talked about among the squad, according to assistant coach Neil Barnes.

Barnes said the expectation is for them to be sharper than what they were in an underwhelming quarterfinal display.

"The speed of our ball wasn't good enough, so we've perhaps got to win our collisions and our carry side of the game's got to improve, so that we get quicker ball," he said.

"If you can get some front-foot ball and win the contact area, then your game will start to hum, but unless you do that, it's going to be a bloody slog out there."

Recent results:
2017: Crusaders won 31-24, Suva
2016: Chiefs won 23-13, Suva
2016: Chiefs won 27-21, Christchurch
2015: Chiefs won 26-9, Christchurch
2015: Chiefs won 40-16, Hamilton
2014: Crusaders won 18-17, Hamilton
2014: Chiefs won 18-10, Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 20-19, Hamilton (semifinal)
2013: Crusaders won 43-15, Christchurch
2013: Chiefs won 28-19, Hamilton

Prediction: The Crusaders won 31-24 when these teams met in Round 13 this season, their first win against the Chiefs since 2014; they'll now be looking for back-to-back wins against them for the first time since Round 14, 2011. This will be the third Finals meeting between these teams after they met in the semifinals of both 2012 and 2013, the Chiefs earning wins in both - but by no more than three points on either occasion. The Crusaders have never lost a play-off fixture when playing as the home team on the day. The Crusaders (17 minutes and 47 seconds) average the most time in possession of any team so far this season, while the Chiefs (14 minutes and 19 seconds) average the least. Only Damian McKenzie (74) has beaten more defenders than David Havili (58) so far this campaign. James Lowe has made 37 clean breaks so far this season, four more than any other player, and has found the try line in five of his last six games against the Crusaders. Yes the Chiefs win, as their recent record against the Crusaders can attest to. However, the past will not win the game and the qualities of the Crusaders tell us they will win by eight points.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Israel Dagg, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Seta Tamanivalu, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 George Bridge.

Chiefs: 15 Damian McKenzie, 14 Tim Nanai-Williams, 13 Anton Lienert-Brown, 12 Charlie Ngatai, 11 James Lowe, 10 Aaron Cruden (co-captain), 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane (co-captain), 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Mitchell Brown, 3 Nepo Laulala, 2 Nathan Harris, 1 Kane Hames.        
Replacements: 16 Liam Polwart, 17 Aidan Ross, 18 Atu Moli, 19 Dominic Bird, 20 Lachlan Boshier, 21 Finlay Christie, 22 Stephen Donald, 23 Shaun Stevenson.

Date: Saturday, July 29
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Expected weather: After three days of wet weather it will be mainly fine. However, there is a chance showers until afternoon, with light winds. A high of 8°C, with a low of -4°
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Angus Gardner (Australia), Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)

Sources: @crusadersrugby & @chiefs_rugby

* Statistics provided by Opta Sports & sportguru.info

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