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29 May 2008 09:24
The Crusaders and Waratahs face off in a classic showdown for the Super 14 rugby crown in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Saturday.
“It’s going to be an epic,” said Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, the most successful coach in the history of Super rugby.
In a match laden with All Blacks and Wallabies, Waratahs assistant coach Steve Tuynman sees the final as one for the purists, with the two best packs in the competition vying for supremacy to lay the platform for victory.
“There’s no question that the battle up front is going to be huge and it’s going to go a long way in deciding who finishes on top,” he said.
The Crusaders and Waratahs have proved themselves the two best teams in the competition this year, as demonstrated by their overwhelming superiority in the semifinals.
The clash carries more than the usual emotion of a grand final as Deans signs off a stellar nine years as the Crusaders’ coach in which they have been the Super champions four times and beaten finalists twice.
It’s also the end of the road for the most successful Waratahs coach, Ewen McKenzie, but unlike Deans, who crosses the Tasman to become the new Wallabies coach, McKenzie does not have a job to go to.
Both sides have made one change to their semifinal winning line-ups, both of them at hooker.
Ti’i Paulo suits up at number two for the Crusaders after Corey Flynn broke his arm when the Crusaders beat the Wellington Hurricanes 33-22.
It is better news for the Waratahs, with the return of first-choice hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau after a hand injury ruled him out of their semifinal when they beat the Sharks 28-13.
Two players likely to be central to the outcome are the Crusaders flyhalf Daniel Carter and Waratahs line-out giant Daniel Vickerman.
Carter showed in the semifinal against the Hurricanes that he is back to his best after five weeks sidelined with an ankle injury.
With his tactical kicking, tackling and running with the ball, he neutralised the Hurricanes’ strong points and exploited their weaknesses.
Carter was quick to point out his job was made easier by the dominance of the Crusaders forwards, an area where they can expect much tougher opposition from the Waratahs.
Vickerman is a master in the air, controlling kick-offs and line-outs to ensure a solid source of clean ball for flyhalf Kurtley Beale.
The Waratahs already sense an added advantage with novice hooker Paulo taking the Crusaders’ line-out throws.
“Vicks [Vickerman] will be trouble for them if he’s not up to the throwing,” said Waratahs flanker Rocky Elsom.
“It’s not just a couple of throws, but getting it right for the whole game. Once you miss a few throws you start to second-guess yourself.”
History is against the Waratahs, with their only win from eight matches in Christchurch coming five years ago when they thumped the Crusaders 43-19.
The losses include the 2002 drubbing 19-96, the 2005 Super 12 final 25-35 and this year’s round-robin match 7-35.
“We haven’t had a good track record here, but it means very little come Saturday night.
So we’re not intimidated by that record,” captain Phil Waugh said.
Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis said that during training this week they have spent “more time on the computer terminal” analysing the Sydneysiders’ playing style and formulating a game plan.
“It’s more of a mental approach now, building slowly for the weekend and being ready to fire on Saturday night.”—AFP
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