AUCKLAND, NZ – And now we enter…end game. It’s do or die for the two teams that have made it all the way to the final of Super Rugby 2014, the NSW Waratahs and the Crusaders. It’s probably the most exciting final match up in a while in Super Rugby, with opinions heavily divided on who’ll get the spoils. But before I add even more conjecture to the pile, let’s have quick look at the history of match ups between these two proud sides:
The NSWRU was formed in 1874, as the “Southern Rugby Union.” The Crusaders came into existence in 1996, a franchise made up of the Canterbury, Mid-Canterbury, South Canterbury, West Coast, Buller, Nelson Bays and Marlborough unions.
Both teams failed to much of an impact in the first season of professional Super Rugby, with the Tahs finishing 7th and the Crusaders an embarrassing last.
The Crusaders won their first title in 1998, beating the Blues in a thrilling final at Eden Park.
The Waratahs have yet to win a title, however have made the final twice in 2005 and 2008. Both times they were beaten by the Crusaders.
Since their first title the Crusaders have racked up six more, last reaching the final in 2011 where they lost to the Reds.
I hate to do this to you Waratahs fans, but I’m going to do it anyway – in 2002 the Tahs had the dubious honour of conceding the highest amount of points in a Super Rugby game, 96 in total. The team that laid the smack down on them that night? The Crusaders.
The Super Rugby final of 2014 will kick off in Sydney at the magnificent Olympic Stadium. #WARvCRU #SuperRugbyFinal
The Crusaders roll into Sydney with a great deal of confidence after their semi final hiding of the previously fearsome Sharks. Their much vaunted set-piece was picked apart by a ruthless Crusaders pack that will tear into tomorrow night’s fixture with the same intensity. That’s because if there is one chink in the Tah’s armor, it’s at line out time. However the Brumbies couldn’t get anything going last week, so the visitors would be wise not to hedge all their bets on that perceived weakness. Expect plenty of short play around the ruck off halfback Andy Ellis, who will feed his forwards quick ball. Dan Carter will look to be his influential best at first five, while Nemani Nadolo should continue his impressive work rate as well as try-scoring feats.
The Tahs had a good, grafting win over the Brumbies last week but might be a little concerned about their inability to score any well-constructed tries. They got two off Brumbies’ mistakes and the other was a piece of brutish brilliance from Will Skelton. Bernard Foley’s kicking game will need to be better, but coach Michael Cheika would no doubt have been making him line up shot after shot at training. If the line out is a weakness then perhaps they might try a few variations, so look for a few cute moves off the front. Other than that the plan will be to shift the ball nice and early their key strike weapons Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau. Don’t discount the effect the rest of Tahs backs can have, especially winger Alofa Alofa.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Jacques Potgieter, 4 Kane Douglas, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tola Latu, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Mitch Chapman, 21 Pat McCutcheon, 22 Brendan McKibbon 23 Peter Betham
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Kieron Fonotia, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Dan Carter, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Colin Slade, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Richie McCaw, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Dominic Bird, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Nepo Laulala, 19 Jimmy Tupou, 20 Jordan Taufau, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Tom Taylor, 23 Johnny McNicholl
Key match ups:
Israel Folau vs. Israel Dagg: What are the chances of two fullbacks in the same game having the same first name of Israel?
Bernard Foley vs. Dan Carter: Both teams chances hang on their boots.
Andy Ellis vs. Nick Phipps: Both cheeky halfbacks, both need quick front foot ball.
Tatafu Polota-Nau vs. Corey Flynn: The line out will be crucial, so both hookers need to have accurate games.
Prediction: Honestly, this is a very tough one to pick and it’s a testament to the quality of the competition that the final is such a high calibre. This really could be any sort of game, so let’s hope both teams throw it round a bit and don’t rely on each other to make mistakes. In saying that, I think it will come down to a few crucial kicks no matter what. Crusaders by 6.
Big call I know, I just think the visitors have come right at the right time and have the wood on the Tahs. One key stat is that they currently enjoy a winning streak of 11 games in a row over the Tahs, so that’s been factored heavily into my prediction. But what do you think? Will the big home crowd at Olympic Park be enough to get them home? Or will the Crusaders desire to be the top dogs on the block again spur them to victory?
The full season review will be out next week with report cards for all teams. Until then, enjoy the final!
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