Preview: Brumbies v Crusaders
Friday, June 12, 2015 James Mortimer Getty Images
GIO Stadium, Canberra
Played: 21, 1996-2014 (DNP 2012)
Brumbies wins: 8
Crusaders wins: 13
Brumbies points: 502
Crusaders points: 599
Last played: Crusaders 40 Brumbies 20, 03.05.14 in Christchurch
Round 18 teams: http://bit.ly/1TdaLKQ
Form: The Brumbies are perhaps the one top six team that is flying under the radar, their double defeats to the Waratahs suggest NSW might have a slight edge in Australia.
While five losses in seven midseason hinted at a late fade, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In round 11 the Brumbies accounted for fellow title challengers the Highlanders 31-18, they then were beaten by the Tahs by three points, outscored the Stormers two-tries-to-one in Cape Town but lost 24-25.
Since, they have won three straight to regenerate momentum, and while they are guaranteed a finals appearance, defeating an All Black laden Crusaders ensures they remain in touching distance of the Australian Conference title.
Meanwhile the seven-time champions for just the fourth time in history miss out on the Investec Super Rugby Finals Series, a shame as only recently has the red and black machine stirred into meaning form.
Seven losses however (from 2002 to 2014 the Crusaders never lost more than five games during a regular campaign) have scuttled their chances.
Dominant in the rivalry with 13 wins from 21 matches (and the last four) suggest the tourists from Canterbury have the advantage, although incongruously if they win the chances of a Chiefs v Highlanders qualifying final increase.
Key players: This promises to be a fascinating clash, with the Brumbies boasting as many Wallabies (11) as the Crusaders have All Blacks.
While this might mean it will be an entrée for the Bledisloe Cup, the home team will look to their forward pack to lay the platform, and on paper they look strong enough to at least equal the tourists.
David Pocock’s talents are well known while Scott Fardy is one of the most underrated blindsides in the competition. Stephen Moore and Scott Sio meanwhile form a front row that will not take a backward step.
The backline though is the threat, one of the bigger rear divisions in the Australian Conference; the likes of Joseph Tomane, Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight are heavyweight weapons that could cause the visitors issues.
The Crusaders field more All Blacks in their starting XV than they have had all season, most notably up front where Codie Taylor is the only man not to have donned the black jersey in anger.
With the likes of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter operating in their preferred positions, one will expect the red and black lineout and scrum to stress the Brumbies set piece.
While Carter and Nemani Nadolo have been strong in recent weeks, the Crusaders, not for the first time, will come up against a backline that could overpower them – although Ryan Crotty and Tom Taylor add plenty of tactical direction from the back.
Squad update: The Brumbies will be hoping they can make captain Stephen Moore's 100th game for the club a memorable one, with the side featuring no changes to their run on side.
Henry Speight has been named to start on the wing after leaving the field in Perth with a rolled ankle on Friday night. Matt Toomua has been named on the bench for the first time since he was sidelined with a syndesmosis strain and will replace Nigel Ah Wong in the 23-man squad.
Coach Stephen Larkham says his side is looking forward to matching up with the in-form Crusaders.
"A team with nothing to lose is sometimes the hardest team to play against.
"They've had two wins in a row and so have we, so it should be a tough match, especially with McCaw and Carter playing their last game for the club.
Head Coach Todd Blackadder has made five changes to the starting fifteen that beat the Blues last weekend.
Kieran Read will return to play this weekend at 8 and as captain, which sees Jordan Taufua move to the bench.
Sam Whitelock also returns to the starting line-up this week after coming off the bench against the Blues. Jimmy Tupou takes his place in the reserves.
Andy Ellis will be the starting halfback and Billy Guyton may get to make his Crusaders debut if he comes off the bench.
Ryan Crotty will start at centre this week and Jone Macilai returns to the right wing. Colin Slade has recovered from his quadriceps injury to take a spot on the bench and he’ll be joined by Nafi Tuitavake as backline cover.
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