Crusaders poised for victory

2008-05-30 08:58

Gavin Rich

Cape Town - Daniel Carter, Leon MacDonald and skipper Richie McCaw are the men that the Crusaders will be looking to as they seek the little edge they will need to beat a much improved and highly competent Waratahs outfit in Saturday's Vodacom Super 14 final in Christchurch.

The Crusaders, seven times winners of this competition, were comfortable winners of the league stage, which is why they are playing the deciding match at home.

They started out as favourites in February and, but for a few hiccups later on when they already had top position secured, they remained the favoured team for the duration of the three and a half months of almost non-stop action.

But the Waratahs have picked up impressive momentum, and few would quibble with the contention that it is the top two teams that are contesting the final.

The way the Waratahs so easily dispatched the Sharks in the Sydney semi-final last week marks them as a team that cannot be underestimated.

In terms of what we have seen them do recently, there is not much separating these sides. They boast the best packs in the competition. Both of them do the little things well, both of them are highly efficient in carrying out the basics, and both last week strangled their opponents with a physical tackling game.

Along with the Stormers, the two finalists were the top defensive teams in the Super 14 - the difference with their South African counterparts being that they more easily blend defence and attack, perhaps because both of them have been playing under the same coach for longer than the Stormers have.

Talking of coaches, that is an extra edge to the final - both Robbie Deans of the Crusaders and Ewen McKenzie of the Waratahs will be saying farewell to their teams after this. Deans is going to coach the Wallabies, and while there has been a belated attempt to keep McKenzie with the Waratahs, he was effectively told in mid-competition that his time was up.

It is tempting to ask how the players in the respective teams will react to the knowledge that this is their coach's swansong, but there is no need to. We saw it last week in two games which were effectively farewells if either team had lost - they responded with highly efficient, committed performances, with the Crusaders in particular showing that there is no stopping them when the knockouts arrive.

The Crusaders, as the team playing at home and as the side with most experience of playing and winning finals, will start as favourites, but watch out for that Waratahs pack. If there is any pack of forwards that can hurt the Crusaders, it is the Waratahs.

If they do get the upperhand, then the Crusaders could be in trouble as it will prevent them from playing the two men who hold the key to victory - Carter and McDonald.

McCall will have to be on top of his game to negate the Waratahs loose-forwards, but even if he is, he and the inform Phil Waugh will probably cancel each other out.

It is at flyhalf and fullback, two key areas which often prove the difference in finals, that the Crusaders have an edge, but they are going to have to work hard as a team to break down the well-organised Waratahs defence.

This one should be close for most of the way, but if the Crusaders play to their potential, there should be more than a score in it by the hooter.

Teams:

Crusaders: Leon MacDonald, Kade Poki, Casey Laulala, Tim Bateman, Scott Hamilton, Daniel Carter, Andy Ellis, Mose Tuiali'i, Richie McCaw (captain), Kieran Read, Ali Williams, Brad Thorn, Greg Somerville, Ti'i Paulo, Wyatt Crockett.

Reserves: Steve Fualau, Ben Franks, Reuben Thorne, Nasi Manu, Kahn Fotuali'i, Stephen Brett, Sean Maitland.

Waratahs: Sam Norton-Knight, Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Lote Tuqiri, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh (captain), Rocky Elsom, Dan Vickerman, Dean Mumm, Al Baxter, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Benn Robinson.

Reserves: Adam Freier, Matt Dunning, Will Caldwell, Beau Robinson, Brett Sheehan, Matt Carraro, Timana Tahu.

Kick-off: 09:35

Referee: Mark Lawrence.

Prediction: Crusaders to win by eight.

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