Preview: Brumbies v Crusaders


A blockbuster tie closes out Round 9 of Super Rugby this Sunday when the Brumbies host the Crusaders in Canberra.

Such was the level of their dominance of this competition back in the early 2000s that it's hard to believe the Brumbies and Crusaders haven't met each other in the big show since 2004, when the Brumbies came out on top in the highest-scoring final to date, winning 47-38 thanks to a Mark Gerrard hat-trick.

Three titles for the Crusaders have followed, as have losses in the 2011 and 2014 finals, while the Brumbies fell in 2013 to the Chiefs. In short, both sides are overdue another title, and nothing we've seen over the first eight rounds has suggested that either side should be ruled out.

Sure there have been blips – the Chiefs thrashing of the Brumbies on their own turf leaps out – and the Crusaders are still finding their way with Richie Mo'unga at the helm, but those negatives are outweighed by optimism.

Sunday sees the Brumbies without David Pocock for the second straight contest as he completes his ban, a shame in many ways for the neutral spectator as this is the kind of contest made for his expertise.

Without him last week the Brumbies made their win over the Waratahs more complicated than it needed to be, cruising at times and then at others finding their defence ripped open out wide.

On their own ball however the Brumbies have shown they can either pummel sides up the middle, with Stephen Moore leading the way, or carve them up down the touchlines with Joe Tomane.

It's the kind of balance several other sides in the competition would kill for, and Stephen Larkham's side have been so clinical that they've managed to win five out of their seven matches and score the fifth most tries in the competition despite making the third fewest carries.

That finishing edge will certainly be required against a red-hot Crusaders outfit.

Form is on the visitors' side; the Crusaders have won their last five matches against the Brumbies, scoring an average 39.8 points per game in the process. What's more the Crusaders have won their last six matches – not since 2008 have they strung together more wins, when they clinched eight in a row.

Mo'unga's accomplished stint at fly-half has played a large part in that but so have the performances of those experienced Crusaders filling in the holes left by McCaw and Carter – the Kieran Reads and Ryan Crottys in the side with several years under their belts at this level.

The younger additions of Mo'unga, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor and Scott Barrett appear to be spurring on those veteran campaigners, collectively aiming to send Todd Blackadder off with a title in his final season in charge.

Winning games of Sunday's magnititude would underline how seriously we should be taking the threat posed by the 2016 version of the seven-time champions. If they can match the Chiefs' heroics from Round 6, then everyone will be paying attention. 

The last time these teams met: The Brumbies had no answer for Nemani Nadolo as the Crusaders triumphed 37-24 in Canberra, with the Fiji star crossing twice in the first half on a night where the Crusaders outscored their hosts four tries to three, with Dan Carter knocking over five penalties and a conversion.

Players to watch: Test-match level games like this one seem to be the kind that Scott Fardy thrives in. The 198cm Wallaby will be found everywhere – over the ball at the breakdown, poaching the ball at the lineout and throwing his weight around in defence as well. Operating alongside two young back row colleagues in Jarrad Butler and Jordan Smiler, Fardy has to set the tone.

Nemani Nadolo's brilliance did it for the Crusaders last year and don't rule him out doing the same again in 2016, despite some slightly subdued performances since the Crusaders' wins over the Sharks and Lions in South Africa. Nadolo has made 15 offloads this season, more than any other player, while his 15 clean breaks are the second most this season.

Team news: The Brumbies have gone with an unchanged starting line-up. Brumbies head coach Stephen Larkham has however made one change amongst his reserves which sees scrum-half Michael Dowsett replacing Joe Powell.

Meanwhile, Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder has made two changes. Kieran Read retains his captaincy in an unchanged pack. In the backline, David Havili starts comes in at inside centre, replacing Ryan Crotty, while Jone Macilai replaces Johnny McNicholl.

Form: The Brumbies' two losses this season have come at home to the Chiefs in Round 6 and two weeks before that away in Cape Town against the Stormers, where they won in the play-offs in 2015. Their Round 1 52-10 win over the Hurricanes was mightily impressive but they're yet to truly match that level of dominance over 80 minutes. The Brumbies have conceded just one try this season when the opposition has obtained possession by winning a turnover, the joint fewest of any team (level with Sharks and Stormers).

Since their Round 1 defeat at home to the Chiefs it's been all wins for the Crusaders on an impressive run, storming to the top of the overall standings after wins at home over the Blues, Kings and Jaguares whilst a successful tour yielded victories against the Sharks, Lions and Force.

Prediction: A statement game for the Brumbies as they pick up a first win over their old rivals for the first time in seven years. Brumbies by three. 

Previous results: 

2015: Crusaders won 37-24 in Canberra
2014: Crusaders won 40-20 in Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 30-23 in Canberra
2011: Crusaders won 52-10 in Nelson
2010: Crusaders won 40-22 in Christchurch
2009: Brumbies won 18-16 in Canberra
2008: Crusaders won 34-3 in Christchurch
2007: Brumbies won 15-6 in Canberra

The teams:

Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Robbie Coleman, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Matt Toomua, 11 Joe Tomane, 10 Christian Lealiifano (cc), 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Jarrad Butler, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Ben Alexander, 2 Stephen Moore (cc), 1 Scott Sio
Replacements: 16 Josh Mann-Rea, 17 Allan Alaalatoa, 18 Leslie Leulua’iali’i-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Michael Dowsett, 22 James Dargaville, 23 Nigel Ah Wong

Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg 14 Jone Macilai, 13 Kieron Fonotia, 12 David Havili, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Mike Alaalatoa, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Tim Boys, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Sean Wainui, 23 Marty McKenzie

Date: Sunday, April 24
Venue: GIO Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 16:05 local (06:05 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Nic Berry, Ed Martin
TMO: Ian Smith