Preview: Brumbies v Crusaders
The Brumbies and Crusaders have met in some classic Rebel Sport Super 14 matches, including three finals, but the 2007 contest shapes more as a stepping stone for the Crusaders along the path to a home semi. The Brumbies have hung tough without ever dominating this season, but that won't be enough to end the Crusaders’ six-match winning run.
VENUE & TIME: Canberra Stadium, Saturday April 28, 21:40 NZT (19:40 local).
HEAD TO HEAD: Played 14 – Brumbies 6, Crusaders 8.
LAST TIME: May 12, 2006 (Christchurch) – Crusaders 33-3 Brumbies.
WALKING WOUNDED: Laurie Fisher must have been cheered by the return of Stirling Mortlock. His match-winning centre returns this week following a long lay-off but obviously needs to be up to top speed immediately and George Smith keeps the captaincy, which suggests Mortlock won't see out the 80 minutes. Aaron Mauger returns from a groin strain and Michael Paterson from a broken rib for the Crusaders this weekend, while all other Crusaders changes were optional.
FORM: The Brumbies won last week against the Force but made hard work of it. Despite a torrent of ball they could only fashion one try, handling errors in promising situations killed plenty of chances, and needed a Mark Gerrard penalty to win a game that should have been sorted out long before the end. The Brumbies have only scored 19 tries this season, fourth lowest in the competition, and their goal-kicking percentage, which is below 60 percent, is last of the 14 teams. You don't beat the Crusaders with those stats; the wonder of it all is how they still remain in contention. The Crusaders did not take a bonus point last week after getting five five-pointers in a row but still won a torrid physical battle with the Hurricanes to move to the cusp of a home semi; a win this weekend will almost certainly ensure that. Playing in Canberra is no big deal for the Crusaders, who have won there three times including the 2000 final.
WHO'S HOT: Both teams were industrious rather than inspired last week. The Crusaders made plenty of errors under pressure and a lot of ball was spilled in tackles, while the Brumbies were much the same without having to go through the physical bashing that the Crusaders took. Defensively, both teams were excellent and tackled superbly. Perhaps the outstanding figures were Reuben Thorne, Ross Filipo and Rua Tipoki for the Crusaders, while Jeremy Paul, George Smith and Gene Fairbanks all worked hard for the Brumbies.
WE THINK: Meeting the Crusaders right now is not good for playoff chances, ask the Force, Highlanders and Hurricanes, all of whom have crashed out of contention after copping it from the defending champs in the last three weeks. The Brumbies will become Hopeful No.4 on the scrapheap this week; we think the Crusaders will win this game comfortably and expect a 10-15 point margin.
Brumbies: 1 – Nic Henderson, 2 – Jeremy Paul, 3 – Guy Shepherdson, 4 – Adam Wallace-Harrison, 5 – Mark Chisholm, 6 – Jone Tawake, 7 – George Smith (captain), 8 – Stephen Hoiles, 9 – George Gregan, 10 – Stephen Larkham, 11 – Mark Gerrard, 12 – Gene Fairbanks, 13 – Stirling Mortlock, 14 – Adam Ashley-Cooper, 15 – Julian Huxley. Reserves: 16 – Saia Faingaa, 17 – Salesi Ma’afu, 18 – Richard Stanford, 19 – Julian Salvi, 20 – Patrick Phibbs, 21 – Peter Playford, 22 – Francis Fainifo.
Crusaders: 1 – Ben Franks, 2 – Corey Flynn, 3 – Campbell Johnstone, 4 – Ross Filipo, 5 – Michael Paterson, 6 – Reuben Thorne, 7 – Richie McCaw (captain), 8 – Mose Tuiali’i, 9 – Kevin Senio, 10 – Daniel Carter, 11 – Caleb Ralph, 12 – Aaron Mauger, 13 – Casey Laulala, 14 – Scott Hamilton, 15 – Leon MacDonald. Reserves: 16 – Ti’i Paulo, 17 – Ben May, 18 – Kieran Read, 19 – Johnny Leo’o, 20 – Andy Ellis, 21 – Stephen Brett, 22 – Rico Gear.
--> REFEREE: Marius Jonker (referee during the match Chiefs vs. Sharks last week ; did a pretty good job).
And check the first touch judge : Craig Joubert....ah Craig, if only you were a player...I've already posted a picture of Craig. The other officials are :
Touch judge: Matt Goddard
Television match official: James Leckie
Assessor: Wayne Erickson, Paul Ramsay