Collisions key for rabid Reds

JON CARDINELLI writes that while the Reds boast the more disciplined pack they will need to overcome the Richie McCaw and Bryce Lawrence factors if they’re to win Saturday’s final.

McCaw played the part of prophet at last Thursday’s press conference in Cape Town. He said that the ref wouldn’t be a factor if the Crusaders’ forwards dominated the collisions and won good front-foot ball. He intimated that the Stormers’ heavies wouldn’t be as effective at the breakdown if the primary ball-carriers were knocked back at the point of contact.

McCaw’s prophecy came to pass as the Crusaders smashed the Stormers up front, and as a result referee Craig Joubert found it easier to reward the clearly dominant side. The message from coach Todd Blackadder will be much the same this week, and no doubt the Reds’ management have similar platform-setting ambitions.

Both sides are capable of winning games without dominating possession, such is the strength of their respective defensive systems and their ability to dominate the collisions. Last weekend’s semi-final games were a great example. The Reds had 40% possession and beat the Blues 30-13. The Crusaders had 45% and still thumped the Stormers 29-10.

The Blues lacked the intensity and necessary grunt to overwhelm the Reds, while the Stormers battled against a rampant Crusaders’ pack. The Cape team’s scrum has come under scrutiny since Saturday’s hammering, but it was at the collisions that the Stormers took the debilitating pounding.

The Reds are among the most disciplined and accurate teams at the breakdown, but they will realise that the Crusaders will present a very different challenge. The Cantabrians have the ability to boss the collisions, and they also have McCaw who despite his lack of game time has shown why he will feature prominently as a momentum killer in a championship game.

If the Reds hope to limit McCaw’s impact, they will need to follow the Crusaders captain’s advice: they will need to win the collisions and get on the front foot. Men like Scott Higginbotham, Radike Samo and James Horwill all have a massive role to play in winning the battle at the frontline. Thereafter opensider Beau Robinson will have the opportunity to out-McCaw McCaw.

And yet the Reds’ shaky set-piece could cost them momentum at the collisions. The Crusaders rattled the Stormers scrum and will be favourites to dominate a Reds pack that have at best held their own in 2011. On some occasions, the wily Queenslanders have circumvented their scrumming weakness, and with former Wallabies prop Ewen McKenzie in the coaching booth, they should have a few tricks up their sleeve for Saturday’s match.

Follow JC on Twitter

Follow SA Rugby on Twitter