Thorne: Finals record no advantage



Thorne is the only survivor in the starting line-up from the Crusaders' maiden victory in 1998 and said the ever-changing make-up of the team ensured the underdogs could not fall back on their proud achievements in the final.

"Comparisons will be made but not all of us have been through it before," Thorne said.

"Each time it's a new challenge. We don't tend to rely on what's happened in the past to get us through," he said.

"Experience does help to an extent but it is a new challenge."

The All Blacks captain did admit the Crusaders' 47-28 round-robin success against the Brumbies at Christchurch in April had instilled valuable self-belief but he also questioned its relevance.

"It's given the guys a little bit of confidence that they can beat the Brumbies but tomorrow night it's irrelevant."

Despite not having lost to the Brumbies since 2001, the Crusaders were happy to assume the underdog tag against this year's top qualifiers and a side unbeaten in seven home games this year.

The Brumbies have averaged 45 points a game in the Australian capital, and conceded just 20, underlining the mammoth task facing the Crusaders.

Brumbies stand-in captain Owen Finegan, named as skipper in place of the injured Stirling Mortlock, acknowledged the Crusaders statistically appeared to be the Canberra side's nemesis though he doubted the current squad would be scarred by losses in the 2000 and 2002 finals.

"The majority of this team haven't played the Crusaders in the final," he said.

"We've got plenty of young blokes like (Clyde) Rathbone, (Radike) Samo, (Nic) Henderson, (Mat) Giteau -- all these blokes haven't played the Crusaders so there's not that aura.

"We've disappointed in the past but this gives us more resolve to win this one. We'd like to think it will be third time lucky."

Both sides wrapped up their preparations today in fine conditions, with Brumbies coach David Nucifora predictably naming Joel Wilson as Mortlock's replacement in midfield.

"He was outstanding for us last year and although he's had limited opportunities this time around he's been a fantastic member of the team," Nucifora said.

"He's the sort of bloke who will rise to the occasion."

The Crusaders walked over Canberra Stadium today and had no late injury dramas.

Coach Robbie Deans was reluctant to fan any controversy over allegations the Crusaders play illegally at the breakdown, dismissing the claims as an attempt to pressurise South African referee Andre Watson.

Nucifora claimed the Crusaders were serial offenders at illegally slowing down their opponents' ball-recycling at rucks, but Deans gave the issue little credence.

"There's been a lot of comment about cheating and so forth but it's really just gamesmanship," Deans said.

"It's part of the territory and doesn't concern us. We are the most disciplined and most honest team in the competition."

Deans will meet Watson before the match but expressed no particular concerns.

However, he is likely to ask the officials to scrutinise hooker Jeremy Paul's delivery at lineout time considering the Wallaby rake illegally steps into the field of play when throwing.

Deans expected a captivating contest providing the weather held. Fine but cold conditions are forecast.

"If conditions are conducive it will be hard but fast. There'll be a lot of drama. Both sides are capable of playing any game."

Brumbies: Joe Roff, Clyde Rathbone, Joel Wilson, Matt Giteau, Mark Gerrard, Stephen Larkham, George Gregan, Scott Fava, George Smith, Owen Finegan (captain), Radike Samo, Mark Chisholm; Nic Henderson, Jeremy Paul, Bill Young. Reserves: David Palavi, Guy Shepherdson, David Giffin, Jone Tawake, Matt Henjak, Mark Bartholomeusz, Lenny Beckett.

Crusaders: Ben Blair; Marika Vunibaka, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Caleb Ralph, Cameron McIntyre, Justin Marshall, Sam Broomhall, Richard McCaw, Reuben Thorne (captain), Chris Jack, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Tone Kopelani, David Hewett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Chris King, Ross Filipo, Johnny Leo'o, Jamie Nutbrown, Andrew Mehrtens, Casey Laulala.

Referee: Andre Watson (South Africa).