Waratahs aim for history

2014-08-02 00:00

THE Super Rugby final kicks off today in an Australasian affair that could see the Waratahs claim the title for the first time since the tournament’s inception.

The Waratahs welcome the Crusaders to Sydney in the first clash between the sides this year. It’s a showdown between the two best teams of the 2014 Super Rugby season.

Both sides desperately want to pick up some silverware after trophy droughts in recent years.

The Waratahs are looking for a win at home that will be the cherry on the top of an amazing season for Michael Cheika’s men who finished as overall log leaders.

The Crusaders will also be itching to reclaim their “champion’’ status having last won a Super Rugby title in 2008. A win will take their Super Rugby win record to eight.

The final will be played at the ANZ Stadium in Homebush, which seats up to 83 500 people. The stadium was prefered over their home turf at the Allianz Stadium in Sydney that can only seat 44 000 fans.

Both sides are unchanged from their semi-final fixtures, hinting that both Cheika and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder are opting for continuity.

It is very much a case of experience versus sheer form and talent, as the Crusaders come into the match with seasoned campaigners and seven Super Rugby titles behind their name.

On the other hand, the Waratahs carry home-ground advantage as well as arguably some of the best-performing players in the tournament. A prime example is Waratahs fullback Israel Folau — who is the top try scorer in the competition with 12.

All Black captain Richie McCaw packs down in the unusual spot of blindside flank as Matt Todd has been a force to be reckoned with in the No 7 jersey during the season.

The veteran will also be looking to add a fifth Super Rugby title to his brimming trophy cabinet.

If history is to be made, the Waratahs will do it in front of a capacity crowd that is expected to be the biggest ever for a Super Rugby final. 50 000 tickets had been sold by yesterday morning. The previous crowd record in a final was 55 000 people at Loftus Versveld in Pretoria back in 2009.

Although the teams have not met this season, the Waratahs may well be wary of their 11-game losing streak to the Crusaders. One of these losses was the 2008 Super Rugby final.

Nevertheless the final promises to deliver a fast-paced game. Do not be surprised to see teams kicking for territory and field placement. One can only hope the game will open up as the best runners in the game will be raring to have a go.

Kick-off in at 11.40 am South African time.

TEAMS:

Waratahs: 15 Folau, 14 Alofa, 13 Ashley-Cooper, 12 Beale, 11 Horne, 10 Foley, 9 Phipps; 1 Robinson, 2 Nau, 3 Kepu, 4 Potgieter, 5 Douglas, 6 Hoiles, 7 Hooper (capt), 8 Palu

Replacements (two to be omitted): 16 Latu, 17 Tilse, 18 Ryan, 19 Skelton, 20 Chapman, 21 McCutcheon, 22 McKibbin, 23 Naiyaravoro, 24 Carraro, 25 Betham

Crusaders: 15 Dagg, 14 Fonotia, 13 Crotty, 12 Carter, 11 Nadolo, 10 Slade, 9 Ellis; 1 Crockett, 2 Flynn, 3 Franks, 4 Bird, 5 S Whitelock, 6 McCaw, 7 Todd, 8 Kieran Read (capt)

Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Moody, 18 Laulala, 19 Tupou, 20 Taufau, 21 Heinz, 22 Taylor, 23 McNicholl.

Head-to-head battles:

Matt Todd vs Michael Hooper: Both openside flanks are out and out fetchers with high work rates. We can expect to see them all over the park putting in tackles and pilfering ball at the breakdown.

Dan Carter vs Kurtley Beale:The battle in the mid-field will be an interesting one as Carter plays out of position against a refined Beale who has had an amazing comeback season. Carter showed he is no slouch at 12 in their semi-final clash against the Sharks and he gives added direction to a dynamic Crusaders outfit. Beale has been a catalyst on attack for the Waratahs and has put Folau away for a number of tries during the season.

Israel Dagg vs Israel Folau: The two best fullbacks in the world will have the chance to settle who is king of the hill. Dagg played well against the Sharks and capitalised on poor kicking and defence in the semi-final. Folau oozes X-factor and his running lines have cut up the best defences throughout the tournament.

Jacques Potgieter vs Dominic Bird: The Bok will fly the South African flag proudly and will undoubtedly smash into the Crusaders defence with his bulldozing runs. Dominic Bird will look to bring some lineout dominance and has proved a useful runner owing to his huge 2,06-metre frame.

Other players to look out for:

• Kieran Read will lead the Crusaders from the back of the scrum. The rangy number eight has probably been the best in the tournament and will run the ball all over the park.

• Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo is just one try behind Israel Folau in the tournament try standings. The powerful wing has been a revelation for the Crusaders this season, breaking tackles and offloading well out of contact.

• Waratahs lock Will Skelton is always great to watch. The giant forward has silky smooth skills and often gets over the advantage line. The Waratahs will be looking to him for good go forward ball.

WHAT THEY SAY

WARATAHS COACH MICHAEL CHEIKA

“History has tended to lead to the conclusion that we won’t deliver on the day. I suppose we’ve been told that for a while … Everyone thought we’d fall over at some stage.”

On the advantage the Crusaders enjoy in having been so often in the championship match:

“You get a certain air of confidence when you’re continually in the finals. They’d be feeling comfortable with their opponent.”

On Dan Carter:

“They’ve got the luxury of having a guy like [Dan] Carter who they can let sit at home and relax for four or five months and then come in when they need him. That’s always handy, isn’t it?”

CRUSADERS COACH TODD BLACKADDER

“We are under no illusion that it’s going to be a massive effort on the weekend against a red-hot Waratahs team. They’ve won nine or 10 in a row, they keep the ball more than most and where most teams would kick it, they run it. They certainly put defences under a lot of pressure so we’re really going to have to go up a gear in our defence and be smart too.” — Sapa-AP.

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