Friday, May 30, 2008

it's the final countdown !!!

The selection of hooker Ti’i Paulo (pictured), in place of the injured Corey Flynn, is the only change to the Crusaders starting XV that has been named today for Saturday night’s Rebel Sport Super 14 final against the NSW Waratahs.

Flynn fractured his right forearm during the 12th minute of last week’s 33-22 semi-final win over the Hurricanes, departing from the field at that point. The bone was operated on the following day, but he is expected to be out of action for up to three months.

While the injury is bad luck for the experienced hooker, it has presented another opportunity for his regular understudy, the 25-year-old Paulo, who has already experienced the busiest season yet in his representative career.

A Crusader since 2005, the former national age-grade captain had appeared for the side on just six occasions prior to featuring in 13 of the 14 matches played thus far on the 13th Crusade. His tally this season includes the first ‘starts’ of his career – against the Cheetahs, Lions and the Queensland Reds.

“It’s obviously bad luck for Corey, but we have every confidence in Ti’i,” Crusaders coach Robbie Deans says. “He’s played very well for us when given the opportunity, and I’m sure he will do so again.”

The injury has also allowed a promotion for Crusaders wider training group member Steve Fualau, who comes onto the bench as the only personnel change from last week’s match-day squad. The Linwood hooker has previously represented both Canterbury and Tasman in domestic provincial rugby.

If required to play, the 24-year-old would become the second member of the wider training group to feature for the Crusaders this year. He would also be the 128th player to appear for the Crusaders since the team was formed in 1996.

The front row aside, the Crusaders will otherwise field a settled combination for the ninth final the franchise has featured in.

“We’ve come through the semi-final well to give ourselves the opportunity,” Deans says, “but what’s gone before counts for nothing. The Waratahs have shown themselves to be a very resilient opponent. They are a team that has overcome their share of adversity to be peaking at the right time. As such, they are very definitely going to be the toughest challenge that we have faced this year, but that’s as it should be in the final.”

The two teams previously squared off in the 2005 decider when the Crusaders prevailed 35-25 to annex the last Super 12 title. Fullback Leon MacDonald, centre Casey Laulala, first-five-eighths Daniel Carter, No 8 Mose Tuiali’i, flankers Richard McCaw and Reuben Thorne and prop Greg Somerville remain from that playing roster, among the side that has been named today.

The Crusaders team to play the NSW Waratahs in the Rebel Sport Super 14 final at AMI Stadium, Christchurch on Saturday May 31, kick-off 7.35pm is:

15. Leon MacDonald ; 14. Kade Poki (Tasman) ; 13. Casey Laulala ; 12. Tim Bateman ; 11. Scott Hamilton ;
10. Daniel Carter ; 9. Andrew Ellis ;
8. Mose Tuiali’i ; 7. Richard McCaw (captain) ; 6. Kieran Read ; 5. Ali Williams (Tasman) ; 4. Brad Thorn (Tasman) ; 3. Greg Somerville ; 2. Ti’i Paulo ; 1. Wyatt Crockett.
Run on reserves:
16. Steve Fualau ; 17. Ben Franks (Tasman) ; 18. Reuben Thorne ; 19. Nasi Manu ; 20. Kahn Fotuali’i (Tasman) ; 21. Stephen Brett ; 22. Sean Maitland.

If not specified : Canterbury

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