Match Details: Crusaders v Blues, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, June 16, 2023, 7.05 pm
Won: Crusaders 30, Blues 12, Drawn 1
Last time: Crusaders 15-3 Blues, May 13, 2023
Referee: Angus Gardner
FORM: Crusaders (Played 15, won 11) Blues (Played 15, won 11)
With Sam Whitelock injured, there is an extra emphasis on Friday's semifinal lineout. In last year's final in Auckland, the Crusaders pummelled the Blues in that area. Scott Barrett and Quinten Strange still represent an experienced core, especially when up against James Tucker and Tom Robinson, who highlight the Blues' woes in their lineout. Barrett's leadership will be the biggest hurdle the visiting unit will have to cope with, especially if any lack of discipline allows the Crusaders to kick to the corners and unleash their rolling maul.
CENTRES OF ATTENTION
The midfield contest will inevitably be a focal point. Crusaders' second five-eighths Jack Goodhue has had a solid finish to another injury-disrupted season and will have an All Blacks World Cup place in his sights. The same applies to his centre partner Braydon Ennor who has enjoyed more time in the position this year. The Blues have leant on their pair of second five-eighths Bryce Heem and centre Rieko Ioane in the latter part of the season, and they have grown as a combination with Ioane able to demonstrate some of his better form. The Blues look to their pair to open up their outside talents, and with wings Mark Telea and Caleb Clarke, and fullback Zarn Sullivan, they have players who like space to operate in. The Crusaders pair are a solid defensive unit. With outsides like wings Leicester Fainga'anuku, the often under-rated Dallas McLeod and the electric fullback Will Jordan, they can provide the Blues' defence with all manner of trials.
The sides are ranked first and second in carries through the season, with the Crusaders making 131.7 per game and the Blues 129.0. In metres carried, the Blues are first with 927.8, while the Crusaders are third with 868.8. The Crusaders also rank first in ruck success with 96.2 per cent to 95.8 per cent (fifth) for the Blues. The Blue's top line breaks at 7.7 compared to the Crusaders' 5.9 (sixth). Defensively, the Blues have missed 17.8 tackles (first) to 22.2 by the Crusaders (third). The Crusaders have won 6.3 turnovers per game (second) to 5.1 by the Blues (10th). In scrum success, the Crusaders are second on 97.0 and the Blues fifth on 94.7. Lineout success is marginal, with the Blues fifth at 86.6 per cent and the Crusaders at 86.5. (Opta)
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said: "I think any Crusaders team that's named will rise up to the occasion, it's going to be a hell of a weekend, it's got that feeling about it, hasn't it?"
Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams and Oli Jager will present the Crusaders with their first unchanged front row of the season – a reminder of the injury frustrations the Crusaders have endured in 2023.
The last time the Crusaders lost a playoff game was in 2016, when the Lions beat them in Johannesburg. The Crusaders are unbeaten in home playoff matches since 1998 (28/28).
1: Tamaiti Williams 2: Codie Taylor (VC) 3: Oliver Jager 4: Scott Barrett (C) 5: Quinten Strange 6: Sione Havili Talitui 7: Tom Christie 8: Christian Lio-Willie 9: Mitchell Drummond 10: Richie Mo’unga 11: Leicester Fainga’anuku 12: Jack Goodhue 13: Braydon Ennor 14: Dallas McLeod 15: Will Jordan
Reserves: Brodie McAlister, Kershawl Sykes-Martin, Reuben O’Neill, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Willi Heinz, Fergus Burke, Chay Fihaki
1: Ofa Tuungafasi 2: Ricky Riccitelli 3: Nepo Laulala 4: Tom Robinson 5: James Tucker 6: Akira Ioane 7: Dalton Papalii (c) 8: Hoskins Sotutu 9: Finlay Christie10: Beauden Barrett 11: Caleb Clarke 12: Bryce Heem 13: Rieko Ioane 14: Mark Telea 15: Zarn Sullivan
Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat, Sam Nock, Harry Plummer, Stephen Perofeta