Match Details: Saturday 11 July, 7.05pm, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch
Referee: Paul Williams
Won: Crusaders 24, Blues 11
Last match: Crusaders 25, Blues 8 (14 February 2020)
Watch: Sky Sport NZ
TOP OF THE TABLE CLASH
There’s no doubting that the Crusaders and Blues have been the form teams of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa so far. Both teams have recorded impressive victories over the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes, although the Crusaders have a two-point advantage on the ladder due to securing bonus points in two of their victories. Last week, the Crusaders were pushed hard until the 75th minute before picking up two late tries to blow the score out on their southern neighbours. The Blues enjoyed a bye week after overcoming the Highlanders 27-24 in a slugfest in round three.
CRUSADERS THE BENCHMARK
Despite the Blues rising status as a genuine force in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa, Head Coach Leon MacDonald was quick to heap praise on the Crusaders. “The Crusaders are the benchmark in New Zealand rugby, so we are under no illusion about the task ahead of us. They are undefeated in the last 35 games of Super Rugby at home,” MacDonald opined. “Just because we have won the last three games, we know that means nothing in the scheme of things.”
BRILLIANT BACK THREE
The clash between the outside backs is one that will excite even the hardest to please fans. On the Crusaders side, the perfectly rounded gameplay of David Havili at fullback is joined by the x-factor qualities of George Bridge and Sevu Reece on the wings. The Blues have a similar balance with Beauden Barrett flanked by two electric game-breakers in the form of Caleb Clarke and Mark Telea. Given Saturday is forecast to be fine and clear, expect to see plenty of running and counter attack from these equally potent combinations.
BIG KARL IS BACK
Crucial games like this are very rarely won by the starting 30 players on the park. Whoever comes out on top will no doubt benefit from the impact and influence from their players on their bench. In this regard, the Blues might have the slight edge with return of All Blacks powerhouse Karl Tu’inukuafe and quality loose forward Blake Gibson to the side. Both players will offer plenty in a crunch situation and know how to handle pressure. Adding in the rock-solid temperament of mid-fielder TJ Faiane, the Blues boast a line-up that is well prepared to close out a tight game.
The Blues have won their last seven Super Rugby games in a row. The only other time they have won more consecutive games was during a 12-game unbeaten run in 1997.
Crusaders: 15: David Havili 14: Sevu Reece 13: Braydon Ennor 12: Jack Goodhue 11: George Bridge 10: Richie Mo’unga 9: Bryn Hall 8: Whetukamokamo Douglas (VC) 7: Tom Christie 6: Tom Sanders 5: Mitchell Dunshea 4: Samuel Whitelock 3: Michael Alaalatoa 2: Codie Taylor 1: Joe Moody
RESERVES: 16. Andrew Makalio 17. George Bower 18. Oliver Jager 19. Quinten Strange 20. Sione Havili 21. Mitchell Drummond 22. Fetuli Paea 23. Will Jordan
Blues: 15 Beauden Barrett, 14 Mark Telea, 13 Rieko Ioane, 12 Harry Plummer, 11 Caleb Clarke, 10 Otere Black, 9 Finlay Christie; 8 Hoskins Sotutu, 7 Dalton Papalii, 6 Akira Ioane, 5 Josh Goodhue, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu ©, 3 Ofa Tuungafasi, 2 James Parsons, 1 Alex Hodgman
Reserves: 16 Kurt Eklund, 17 Karl Tu’inukuafe, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Aaron Carroll, 20 Blake Gibson, 21 Jonathan Ruru, 22 TJ Faiane, 23 Matt Duffie.