Queensland Reds will have faced a major test of their Super Rugby title credentials with a showdown against seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders.
Queensland Reds face a major test of their Super Rugby title credentials with a showdown against seven-time champions Canterbury Crusaders in Brisbane on Sunday.
The table-topping Reds, regenerated under the coaching of former Wallaby prop Ewen McKenzie, have yet to win the southern hemisphere championship while the Christchurch-based Crusaders are regarded as the competition’s standard bearers.
Queensland, inspired by Wallaby halves Will Genia and Quade Cooper, have only lost twice this season and are unbeaten in their last 10 matches at home, with their last defeat in Brisbane coming against the Auckland Blues in February last year.
The Reds conquered the Crusaders 41-20 in Brisbane last season, but the New Zealanders, led by All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter, are third in the overall standings and victory will step up their bid for title number eight.
“The Crusaders have proven that they are the standard-bearers,” Reds’ skipper James Horwill said.
“It’s always a big test. They’ve been the stand-out forward pack as an eight probably all year and we’ve got to make sure across the board, not only in the set pieces, we get it right so we can give the backs clean ball.”
Horwill said the Reds are braced for their toughest match of the season.
“I don’t think there’s ever a good time to play the Crusaders,” he said.
“I’m pretty sure they’ll come out firing and they’ll be at their best on the weekend.”
‘Preparations have gone well’
The Crusaders were buoyed by this week’s re-signing of inspirational All Blacks captain McCaw to a four-year contract extension with the New Zealand Rugby Union.
Openside flanker McCaw (30) is capped 94 times for the All Blacks and a three-time International Rugby Board player of the year and is running into full fitness after missing a large chunk of the Super 15 season.
The Reds will also have to find a way of keeping damaging inside-centre Sonny Bill Williams in check, but he first must pass a fitness test on an injured knee.
Western Stormers will have to beat the ACT Brumbies on Saturday to stay on top of the South African Conference.
“We have never beaten the Brumbies in Canberra and this week will be a tough challenge,” Stormers’ coach Allister Coetzee said.
“Preparations have gone well this week and the team will be up for this game.”
The New South Wales Waratahs, second behind the Reds in the Australian Conference, face a stiff test against the Coastal Sharks in Durban on Saturday.
‘We can’t afford to drop another one’
It is the first of their two-match tour to the republic and with four matches left to next month’s top-six playoffs the Waratahs are fifth, just two points ahead of the Otago Highlanders and Sharks.
“We’ll focus on doing our best to come away with a win that just puts us a little bit further away from the Sharks,” Waratahs’ coach Chris Hickey said.
“This is one of those games I think that’s pivotal to both teams.
Sharks coach John Plumtree said it was vital for his team to win all four of their remaining fixtures if they are to maintain any hope of reaching the playoffs.
“The players know that we can’t afford to drop another one,” Plumtree said.
It is also a crucial weekend for defending champions Bulls, who face the in-form Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls, who will be without Springbok scrumhalf Fourie du Preez for the next four weeks with a knee injury, have won their last three games, but the Bloemfontein-based Cheetahs are unbeaten in their last four outings.
In this weekend’s other games, Wellington Hurricanes host Australia’s Western Force and the Highlanders have home advantage against South Africa’s Golden Lions, while Auckland Blues, Waikato Chiefs and Melbourne Rebels have a bye.—AFP.