Ruggaworld

Crusaders 40, Brumbies 22

UPDATE: On a foggy night in Christchurch the Crusaders beat the Brumbies 40-22, scored a bonus point and ensured a semifinal for themselves as they move, at least for the time being, into second place on the Super 14.

PREVIEW:
The Brumbies travel from Canberra to Christchurch for what amounts to a knock-out clash, with the home team on 36 log points and the visitors on 37.

Len Kaplan – Rugby365

The Brumbies are playing for participation in their seventh semifinal, but it would be their first since their second and most recent title in 2004, while a defeat for the seven-time champion Crusaders would deprive them of their record 12th semifinal appearance. It would also leave them out of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

Australian teams have won only one of the last 19 games against the Crusaders in Christchurch – the Waratahs in 2004 – and the Brumbies have only twice ever beaten the Crusaders away, in 1996 and 2000. They have conceded in excess of 30 points on each of their last five visits to Christchurch, and in six of their eight trips in total. The last time the Brumbies held the Crusaders to fewer than 31 points at home was when they beat them in 2000.

The Crusaders are unbeaten in Christchurch this year but they do come off three consecutive defeats, an unusual position for the franchise to be in, having never lost four in a row.

The Crusaders come off what goes down as a 40-35 defeat to the Bulls in Pretoria, losing controversially after the hooter to a disputed try, but they played superb rugby for much of the game, and that was playing at altitude against the top-of-the-table defending champions. At home in a game which they need to win to keep their season going, they will take some stopping.

The Brumbies looked decidedly mediocre in weeks 10 and 11, losing to the Hurricanes at home and the Waratahs away, but then looked very good in the last fortnight in beating the Reds and thumping the Highlanders. They fly to Christchurch on a winning high and boosted by the return of the iconic George Smith last week and miracle man Julian Huxley this week.

Brumbies head coach Andy Friend states the obvious when he says: “This is a big game for both sides and is effectively a quarter-final with the loser finishing up for 2010. In terms of challenges, they don’t come much bigger than tackling the Crusaders in Christchurch but it’s the job we have to get done if we’re going to stay in this competition.”

Friend added: “Our performances have been building over the past few matches and we’ve put ourselves in a good position for the weekend. We were strong against the Reds and continued that against an in-form Highlanders side last week, and now we need to find the next gear in Christchurch.”

Crusaders head coach Blackadder said that after three tough matches on tour, he is relieved the team have come through unscathed by injury and that the players are feeling upbeat. Blackadder is feeling positive about his side’s prospects after the performance against the Bulls and said his players have every opportunity to take some momentum into the Brumbies clash.

“It’s great that we are playing the Brumbies, who I’m sure will look to play an open, attacking game. It’s winner-takes-all and we’re all looking forward to it,” said Blackadder. “We took a lot from that match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and are excited about getting back [to Christchurch] and playing in front of our home crowd.”

“We are probably in the best shape physically and mentally that we have been all season,” Blackadder added.

Key to the Brumbies chances of winning will be the performances of kingpins Matt Giteau and Adam Ashley-Cooper, and whether Matt Toomua and Tyrone Smith can sustain their fine form of last weekend. Also crucial will be the contribution of their loose forwards, with Rocky Elsom, George Smith and Stephen Hoiles forming as potent a trio as most in the competition.

The Crusaders have Dan Carter and Richie McCaw, both of whom had been below their best, again producing commanding performances, and the restoration of Andy Ellis to the starting number nine spot brings added acumen and experience. And the selection of Ben Franks at loosehead prop ahead of Wyatt Crockett should bring a solidity to the front row not always present against the Bulls.

This match could see McCaw and Smith, two of the world’s all-time great openside flanks, up against one another for the last time, since Smith has been granted an early release from his Australian contract and is about to end his Brumbies career, to see out his playing career abroad. Their Super and Test clashes have often been classics in the past and this one could be special too.

Super 14 results:
2009:
Brumbies won 18-16 (Canberra)
2008: Crusaders won 34-3 (Christchurch)
2007: Brumbies won 15-6 (Canberra)
2006: Crusaders won 33-3 (Christchurch)

rugby365.com Prediction: A tight one to predict, isn’t it? This is a real 50-50 call, with two good teams in action but one’s season ending on Friday. The match takes place in Canterbury though, not in ACT, and on the evidence of their excellent performance against the Bulls, it looks to be the Crusaders who have what it takes to get to the May 29 final.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Colin Slade, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Daniel Bowden, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (captain), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ti’i Paulo, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Daniel Perrin, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Chris Jack, 19 Thomas Waldrom, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tim Bateman, 22 Jared Payne.

Brumbies: 15 Julian Huxley, 14 Pat McCabe, 13 Tyrone Smith, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 10 Matt Toomua, 9 Josh Valentine, 8 Stephen Hoiles (captain), 7 George Smith, 6 Rocky Elsom, 5 Mark Chisholm, 4 Mitchell Chapman, 3 Salesi Maafu, 2 Stephen Moore, 1 Ben Alexander.
Replacements: 16 Huia Edmonds, 17 Jerry Yanuyanutawa, 18 Ben Hand, 19 Colby Faingaa, 20 Patrick Phibbs, 21 Brackin Karauria-Henry, 22 Andrew Smith.

Referee: Bryce Lawrence (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Josh Noonan (New Zealand), Kane McBride (New Zealand)
TMO: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

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