The Crusaders picked up where they left off in 2020 with wins in the opening two rounds of Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa and now face an altogether different challenge from a Chiefs side with a point to prove in Christchurch on Saturday night.
Match details: Saturday 13 March, 7.05pm, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: James Doleman
Won: Crusaders 23, Chiefs 15
Last match: Crusaders 32, Chiefs 19 (1 August 2020)
Watch: Sky Sport (NZ) Rugby Pass (selected international territories).
While they are dynamite on attack, perhaps the key strength of the Crusaders is their watertight defence. Although Sky Super Rugby Aotearoa is just two rounds deep, the Crusaders occupy six places in the top 10 for most tackles made. Openside flanker Tom Christie sits at the top of the ladder with 32 tackles from two matches while Ethan Blackadder has made the most tackles (20) of any player yet to miss an attempt. There’s no doubting this statistic won’t be lost on the Chiefs coaching group, but with game breakers like Damian McKenzie, Etene Nanai-Seturo, Brad Weber and Anton Lienert-Brown in their ranks, the Chiefs bring plenty of firepower to unsettle the reigning champions.
Coach Clayton McMillan promised a raft of changes to the Chiefs and didn’t disappoint. Sean Wainui and Quinn Tupaea have been given midfield starts while regular mid-fielder Anton Lienert-Brown needed to pass a fitness test after taking a knee knock last week and has been named on the bench. Shaun Stevenson starts in place of Jonah Lowe on the wing, while Chase Tiatia is on the bench after recovering from a concussion. Also back in the 23 is All Blacks halfback Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi. In the pack, the 2.02m, 20-year-old, Josh Lord will make his debut at lock with Naitoa Ah Kuoi coming off the bench. Tighthead prop Angus Ta’avao will start with Sione Mafileo to come off the bench. Samipeni Finau’s non-selection was a reflection of the need to maintain a youth-experience balance. Mitchell Brown is at blindside flank while Kaylum Boshier is on the bench as loose forward cover.
The Crusaders have won seven of their last nine games against the Chiefs, including the last two matches between the sides.
One of the biggest battles for the Chiefs to overcome is the psychological one of toppling the Crusaders on their home turf. The Crusaders have only lost two games in the past four years at home and have defeated the Chiefs in the last four games played in the Garden City. Any visit to take on the Crusaders in Christchurch requires a huge amount of mental fortitude just to have a chance in the game. Fortunately for the Chiefs they have plenty of experienced players who have been there and done that. If the Chiefs get up on Saturday, you can be sure that players like Sam Cane, Anton Lienert-Brown, Damian McKenzie and Brad Weber would have played a massive role in giving their side the belief to get over the line.
1. George Bower 2. Codie Taylor (VC) 3. Michael Alaalatoa 4. Scott Barrett (C) 5. Samuel Whitelock 6. Sione Havili Talitui 7. Tom Christie 8. Cullen Grace 9. Mitchell Drummond 10. Richie Mo’unga 11. Leicester Fainga’anuku 12. David Havili (VC) 13. Jack Goodhue 14. Sevu Reece 15. Will Jordan
Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Joe Moody, Fletcher Newell, Mitchell Dunshea, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Bryn Hall, Fergus Burke, Dallas McLeod
1. Reuben O’Neill 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho 3. Angus Ta’avao 4. Tupou Vaa’i 5. Josh Lord 6. Mitchell Brown 7. Sam Cane (cc) 8. Luke Jacobson 9. Brad Weber (cc) 10. Bryn Gatland 11. Etene Nanai-Seturo 12. Quinn Tupaea 13. Sean Wainui 14. Shaun Stevenson 15. Damian McKenzie
Reserves: Bradley Slater, Aidan Ross, Sione Mafileo, Naitoa Ah Kuoi, Kaylum Boshier, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Anton Lienert-Brown, Chase Tiatia