Preview: Waratahs v Crusaders

Dan Carter 1582058040
This year the Crusaders are well established in the top four (nothing has changed there) but the Waratahs are not last only because the Reds are. And, to be brutally frank, the Waratahs deserve to be where they are.

VENUE & TIME: Aussie Stadium, Sydney, Saturday March 31, 21:40 NZT (19:40 local).

HEAD TO HEAD: Played 12 � Waratahs 4, Crusaders 8.

LAST TIME: April 7, 2006 (Christchurch) � Crusaders 17-11 Waratahs.

WALKING WOUNDED: The Waratahs have a well-documented casualty ward which includes most of their better-performed forwards but those guys are long-term in-patients and the team should be used to playing without them. Any changes Ewen McKenzie makes have that 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic' feel about them; he simply has to do the best he can with what he's got. The Crusaders are in good shape, as they have been for most of the season. Robbie Deans will be happy with the way his All Blacks slotted back into the team, even if they looked predictably rusty around the edges; it was still easy to see the increase in class and confidence they brought a the team that was already travelling quite nicely.

FORM: The Crusaders are lining up for their annual assault on the title and their form in the last couple of weeks must be worrying other contenders. Big wins over the Bulls and Stormers, even if they weren't always in control and last week's margin was a bit flattering, show they still know how to get it done. The Waratahs are just getting done; last week it was the Blues' turn to beat up on the Sydneysiders and they did to the tune of 34-6. Perhaps playing at Sydney will shave the margin but don't bet on it; while the Crusaders are threatening the top of the table, the Waratahs are challenging strongly for the Reds' wooden spoon.

WHO'S HOT: Dan Carter returned to his usual high standard of play within minutes last week, while Richie McCaw was obviously the class loosie on the ground. Andrew Ellis and Rico Gear, both of whom have been quiet recently, had much better matches and Ellis in particular looked far more comfortable behind a pack going forward. The Crusaders' tight five had the Stormers under all kinds of scrum pressure but the team still made too many basic errors for Deans to break out a grin at training this week. The Waratahs got thumped at Auckland; when you lose by 6-34, not many players stand out.

WE THINK: The Crusaders will make no race of this one and will win by plenty. Even with the match being played in Sydney, we would look for a 20-point margin.

TEAMS:

Waratahs:1 � Benn Robinson, 2 � Adam Freier (captain), 3 � Al Baxter, 4 � David Lyons, 5 � Will Caldwell, 6 � Rocky Elsom, 7 � Tim Davidson, 8 � Wycliff Palu, 9 � Brett Sheehan, 10 � Sam Norton-Knight, 11 � Lachlan Turner, 12 � Morgan Turunui, 13 � Lote Tuqiri, 14 � Peter Hewat, 15 � Kurtley Beale.

Reserves: 16 � Tatafu Polota-Nau, 17 � Matt Dunning, 18 � Ben Hand, 19 � Beau Robinson, 20 � Josh Valentine, 21 � Sam Harris, 22 � Ben Jacobs.

Crusaders:1 � Wyatt Crockett, 2 � Corey Flynn, 3 � Campbell Johnstone, 4 � Ross Filipo, 5 � Chris Jack, 6 � Reuben Thorne, 7 � Richie McCaw (captain), 8 � Mose Tuiali�i, 9 � Kevin Senio, 10 � Daniel Carter, 11 � Scott Hamilton, 12 � Aaron Mauger, 13 � Casey Laulala, 14 � Rico Gear, 15 � Leon MacDonald.

Reserves: 16 � Ti�i Paulo, 17 �Ben Franks, 18 � Michael Paterson, 19 � Kieran Read, 20 � Johnny Leo�o, 21 � Andy Ellis, 22 � Stephen Brett.

REFEREE: Craig Joubert
Dan Carter 1582058040