Friday, April 27, 2012

Time for Tahs to shake off Crusaders curse April 27, 2012

THERE'S no point asking most of the Waratahs what is the key to beating the Crusaders, because they haven't got a clue. And there is good reason why Richie McCaw is back for Sunday afternoon's match, even though it is via the bench, because the All Blacks skipper is a master at inflicting pain on them.

Only three members of the 22-man Waratahs squad playing the Crusaders at Allianz Stadium can boast victory over the most successful Super Rugby province - and two of those did it with a different side. And for many Waratahs players, their experience against the Crusaders has been hideous.

The Waratahs' last victory against the Crusaders was eight years ago when, in Ewen McKenzie's first match as NSW coach, they won in Christchurch 43-19, with fullback Mat Rogers a standout with a 28-point haul. Since then, the Waratahs have experienced nine straight losses, which includes two finals appearances in Christchurch, and three Sydney matches. The only Sydney wins were in 1997, 2001 and 2003.

For the senior playing group, trying to come up with excuses after a Canterbury encounter has become repetitious. According to Sunday's program, Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau has played the Crusaders seven times for seven losses.

No.8 Wycliff Palu is no wins from six, which probably prompted him to raise his eyebrows this week when told that McCaw was scheduled to return after a long break due to a foot injury. After shaking his head, Palu said: ''We always seem to get the Crusaders when everyone is back on deck.''

Waratahs prop Benn Robinson is in the same category as Palu with nothing to show from six Crusaders games, while centre Tom Carter and second-rower Dean Mumm have suffered five straight defeats. Then there is Daniel Halangahu, likely to play off the bench, who is nought from four.

Not even Berrick Barnes, who moved from Queensland to the Waratahs in 2010, has had any joy - as the Reds could not beat the Crusaders between 2000 and 2009.

At least Rocky Elsom, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Sarel Pretorius can stand tall. Elsom was in the last Waratahs winning line-up, Ashley-Cooper enjoyed three victories with the Brumbies, and Pretorius was a member of the Cheetahs team that defeated the Crusaders in Bloemfontein last year.

For the record, the last Waratahs line-up to beat the Crusaders was: Rogers, Lote Tuqiri, Ben Jacobs, Nathan Grey, Milton Thaiday, Tim Donnelly, Chris Whitaker, David Lyons, Phil Waugh, Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Justin Harrison, Al Baxter, Brendan Cannon and Matt Dunning.

Maybe the Waratahs can take some faith from what Whitaker said straight after their 2004 triumph.
''It was good to bury some demons out there,'' he said on the field. After all, at the same Christchurch venue two years earlier, they suffered their biggest Super Rugby loss - 96-19.

Sunday is another chance to bury Waratahs demons.

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