Class and statistics agree: It will be Crusaders

Class and statistics agree: It will be Crusaders

It’s 5-0 to Crusaders in their play-off matches against the Hurricanes in Super Rugby, and they should add to this impressive figure when the two sides meet in the second semi-final of this year’s competition in Christchurch on Saturday (09:35 SA time).

So say the Kiwi rugby pundits, and also the statistics if one looks at the two sides’ personnel. After all, seven All Blacks in the Crusaders pack should be able to handle the two in the Hurricanes front eight.

If not, the recent – and increasing – doubt of All Blacks supporters that their team are favourites to win the World Cup will increase, as will the pressure for coach Steven Hansen and his coaching staff.

The odds, however, tell their own tale. Crusaders have won the last four matches between these two sides, including winning by 32-8 in the 2019 competition.

Even more daunting to the visitors from Wellington will be the fact that the Crusaders have not lost a play-off at home in the 23 years Super Rugby since this competition came into being in 1996. And then they have in recent years been unbeatable at home with a stretch 28 matches there without a single loss. Interestingly, they were last beaten at home by the Hurricanes in 2016!

To add to these overwhelming plusses for the Crusaders, the Hurricanes have won only one of their last nine away play-offs.

Much has been said about the match-up of All Blacks number one flyhalf Beauden Barrett and the man who wants to take over this position, Richie Mo’unga. It will be a huge and interesting clash, and the reality is that Barrett will have little chance to win this showdown unless his forwards win the battle up front.

A flyhalf on the backfoot, despite a great scrumhalf like TJ Perenara on his inside, will always be at a disadvantage.

And that is bound to happen. The crown prince will win this flyhalf battle and his team will get the place in next weekend’s final – but knowledgeable All Blacks coach Steve Hansen will not be swayed by the result of this match-up as he takes the team towards and into the World Cup.

Teams –

15 David Havili, 14 Sevu Reece, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Whetukamokamo Douglas, 5 Samuel Whitelock (captain), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody. Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 George Bower, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Jordan Taufua, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Braydon Ennor.

15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Salesi Rayasi, 13 Peter Umaga-Jensen, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Ben Lam, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 Thomas Perenara, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Isaia Walker-Leawere, 4 James Blackwell, 3 Jeff To’omaga-Allen, 2 Dane Coles (captain), 1 Toby Smith.  Replacements: 16 Asafo Aumua, 17 Xavier Numia, 18 Ben May, 19 Kane Le’aupepe, 20 Vaea Fifita, 21 Richard Judd, 22 James Marshall, 23 Jonah Lowe.

Kick-off: 09:35

Referee: Nicholas Berry (Australia)