Super Rugby Match Preview
Saturday 14th July
Crusaders vs Blues
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christchurch
Kick-off: 19h35 local time, 07h35 GMT, 09h35 SA Time
Referee: Federico Anselmi
Assistant Referees: Jamie Nutbrown, Mike Fraser
TMO: Shane McDermott
The Top Plays the Bottom!
The Crusaders sit at the top of the New Zealand Conference, with 58 points. The Blues are at the bottom of the New Zealand Conference with just 22 points.
Two teams with vastly different seasons behind them. The Blues have won just 4 of their 15 games to date. They have a negative points differential of -94. The Crusaders have won 13 of their 15 games in 2018, and have a points differential of 210.
Yet that chasm between the two teams is not nearly as wide or deep as it seems. At least in terms of most of the attacking stats.
The Blues are not a bad rugby team. On paper.
They have the player resources. They have the game breakers and the match winners. They have the All Blacks and the near-All Blacks. They’ve got Rieko Ioane, and Matt Duffie. They have got Jerome Kaino and Ofa Tu’ungafasi. There is Melani Nanai, Michael Collins, and Augustine Pulu. They have a great No 8 in Akira Ioane.
But there is something missing in this Blues outfit.
They seem totally disorganised on attack. They have the players, but they do not have a clue how to play together.
As individuals they all probably have that wonderful thing called BMT. Big Match Temperament.
As a team they do not seem to have anything that vaguely resembles BMT.
And they are up against the Biggest Match Temperaments in the game. The Crusaders.
It does not bode well for Jerome Kaino’s fairwell game.
Crusaders boss Scott Robertson has made six changes to his starting XV to face the Blues in their Super Rugby derby in Christchurch on Saturday.
Of the four changes in the forwards, the champions welcome the return of prop Tim Perry from the hamstring injury he sustained prior to the June international break.
At tighthead, Michael Alaalatoa moves from the bench to the starting side for this game.
Quinten Strange will partner captain Sam Whitelock at lock, with Scott Barrett rested this week. In the loose forwards, Jordan Taufua will start in the number six jersey, and Pete Samu comes in to the reserves.
The only changes in the backs will see Mitchell Drummond wear the number nine jersey this week and Bryn Hall take a spot on the replacements bench. David Havili will also sit out this game, and has been replaced at full-back by Israel Dagg.
On the reserves bench, hooker Sam Anderson-Heather joins the squad and could earn his first Crusaders cap this week. Anderson-Heather will provide cover for Andrew Makalio in the absence of Codie Taylor, who is another All Black rested for this match.
Blues head coach Tana Umaga has made just one alteration to his starting line-up to take on the Crusaders in their Super Rugby derby in Christchurch on Saturday.
The only change from the pack which lost to the Hurricanes in Wellington last week is a start for Ben Nee-Nee after an injury to Matiaha Martin ruled him out, while the backline remains the same.
Scott Robertson has honoured the Blues by picking a strong side for the Crusaders’ last match before the playoffs. He did not have to do that, he could have rested his entire first choice starting team if he wanted to. The ‘Saders have already secured first place in the standings, nobody can catch them anymore, they could afford to have a bit of fun this week, and perhaps give the Blues a bit of leeway. But Robertson’s selections suggest that he is looking to build on their form and momentum ahead of the playoffs. He wants to keep on winning.
And then there is history: No Blues side has won in Christchurch for 14 years, and one can’t see this weirdly wandering outfit upsetting a Crusaders side that has dominated almost everyone on attack and defence in 2018.
There is not really much one can say other than to wish Jerome Kaino all the best in his pre-retirement stint in Europe.
The Crusaders will jog home, by at least 12 points.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Quinten Strange, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Tim Perry
Replacements: 16 Sam Anderson-Heather, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Donald Brighouse, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Blues: 15 Matt Duffie, 14 Melani Nanai, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Rieko Ioane, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Stephen Perofeta, 9 Augustine Pulu (c), 8 Akira Ioane, 7 Blake Gibson, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ben Nee-Nee, 4 Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 Matt Moulds, 1 Alex Hodgman
Replacements: 16 Ross Wright, 17 Pauliasi Manu, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Jacob Pierce, 20 Murphy Taramai, 21 Sam Nock, 22 Bryn Gatland, 23 Tamati Tua