Preview: Waratahs v Crusaders

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Friday, May 22, 2015    James Mortimer    Getty Images

Saturday 23 May at 9.40pm
ANZ Stadium, Sydney

Played: 21 (1996-2014, DNP 2014 RR)
Waratahs wins: 5
Crusaders wins: 16

Waratahs points: 456
Crusaders points: 625

Last match: Waratahs 33 Crusaders 32, 02.08.14 in Sydney (F)

Round 15 teams:

Form: While the title holders win over the Sharks was hardly their greatest victory, it was enough to make coach Michael Cheika happy, after all, the South Africans threw plenty at NSW physically and the hosts came away with the victory.

With eight wins in 12 matches, the Tahs have their destiny in their own hands, victory will enable them to overtake the bye taking Brumbies on the competition table.

However their attack, while still capable, is a far cry from the offence in 2014 that saw them sweep all before them – it is obvious that opposition outfits have worked overtime to shut down Cheika’s troops.

The Crusaders, with 353 points to their name offensively, have registered a half century three times this season, but are on the precipice with a 6-6 record after 12 fixtures.

Yet a word of warning, while NSW defeated the seven-time champions by one point last year, they have lowered the red and black machine’s colours just five times in 21 matches.

And the ledger since 2005? 11-1 to the Crusaders.

Key players: The backline of the hosts is perhaps the best in the competition, and while New Zealand fans might bolt upright in protest, only Taqele Naiyaravoro hasn’t worn Wallabies colours.

The Waratahs attacking blueprint might have been scrutinised, but Israel Folau continues to be one of the most dangerous weapons ever employed by an Australian side.

Michael Hooper has been identified as a threat by the All Blacks captain, while the rest of the home team’s pack has the capability to cause the Crusaders damage, but they haven’t been able to do this consistently against forward rivals in 2015.

Richie McCaw returns to the starting lineup with Matt Todd shifted to the bench, ensuring that the red and black pack boasts six current All Blacks.

Colin Slade and Dan Carter continue their partnership at 10/12, while Mitchell Drummond is given another opportunity to operate behind a near full international forward unit.

Squad update: The defending Investec Super Rugby champions have made no changes to their starting XV for this grand final rematch.

Keeping the number one jersey this week for the away side is prop Wyatt Crockett, who will become the most capped Crusader ever as he plays his 152nd game and surpasses Corey Flynn’s record.

There are changes in the other front row positions though, with hookers Ben Funnell and Codie Taylor rotating again so that Funnell takes the starting spot on Saturday night, and prop Owen Franks returning to the starting fifteen.

Joe Moody and Nepo Laulala will provide prop cover from the bench.

Luke Romano returns at lock and Richie McCaw is back at seven, with Matt Todd taking a place in the reserves.

The only change in the backline is at halfback, with Mitchell Drummond rotating into the starting spot and Andy Ellis providing cover from the bench.

Israel Dagg will make his return from injury off the bench, having recovered from a calf strain.