Crusaders to clinch eighth title

JON CARDINELLI and RYAN VREDE analyse the key match-ups and pick the Crusaders to win Saturday’s final in Brisbane.

KEO.CO.ZA SUCCESS RATE
VREDE: 79/123 (64%)
JC: 85/123 (69%)
Semi-finals
VREDE: 1/2
JC: 1/2
Qualifying Round
VREDE: 2/2
JC: 2/2
Round 18
VREDE: 5/7
JC: 6/7
Round 17
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 4/7
Round 16
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 3/7
Round 15
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 14
VREDE: 3/6
JC: 3/6
Round 13
VREDE: 3/6
JC: 3/6
Round 12
VREDE: 5/7
JC: 5/7
Round 11
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 3/7
Round 10
VREDE: 5/6
JC: 4/6
Round 9
VREDE: 4/7
JC: 6/7
Round 8
VREDE: 5/6
JC: 5/6
Round 7
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 6/7
Round 6
VREDE: 6/7
JC: 6/7
Round 5
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 4/7
Round 4
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 5/6
Round 3
VREDE: 3/7
JC: 6/7
Round 2
VREDE: 4/6
JC: 4/6
Round 1
VREDE: 5/7
JC: 5/7

REDS v CRUSADERS, SATURDAY, 11:40 PM

VREDE’S CALL: The Reds have been very impressive this season; especially taking into account that the average age of their side is 22. Coach Ewen McKenzie has delivered a masterclass in shaping a game plan around his resources, while also growing the game of flyhalf Quade Cooper.

Still I think the Crusaders will have too much class across the track, and their superior experience will be decisive. Home advantage won’t be a telling factor. The Crusaders have won on the road consistently this season, and came close to turning the Reds over in the league-phase clash with a significantly weaker side than the one they’ll field this Saturday. The Crusaders’ forwards were immense at the set phases and in general play in the semi-final against the Stormers, and while the Reds will be a sterner test of them in this regard, they still won’t boss these facets of play.

With a platform set, expect the Crusaders’ halfback pair of Andy Ellis and Dan Carter to control the game. I don’t think the seven-time champs will veer from their preferred ball-in-hand approach, but in the aforementioned duo they have players adept at playing the percentages if required.

Certainly the Reds have evolved their game, and are now adept at a more pragmatic style than they have been in previous seasons. But a physical and intelligent defensive unit will blunt their potency. They have not responded well when put under this sort of pressure. Furthermore, in Carter the Crusaders have a superior goal-kicker to the Reds’ Quade Cooper, whose consistency seems to elude him at crucial times. The Crusaders’ eighth title will be their best yet considering the background against which the feat will be achieved. Crusaders by 10

JC’S CALL: It’s going to be a fairytale ending no matter who lifts the new trophy. Ewen McKenzie has raised the Reds from rubble, implementing structures that have maximised the team’s collective skills and strengths and also allowed for individual expression. The Brisbane franchise is still short of world-class players but such is the management of McKenzie and the belief he has installed that they will know a win against the Crusaders is very possible.

But how can you write off the Crusaders? The devastating earthquake that left them without a home ground and emotionally drained would have destroyed most campaigns, but Todd Blackadder and his determined squad progressed in spite of incredible odds. I backed the Stormers to beat them at Newlands last week, as I felt the extensive travel from New Zealand would be a factor and ultimately serve to burst their bubble. But the Crusaders were not only the more determined side in that semi-final, they were also the more accurate. Travel fatigue be damned.

Most experts are saying that if the fatigue didn’t catch up with them in Cape Town, it will surely claim them in Brisbane. And yet, if you were at that game at Newlands, you will know that this Crusaders side is capable of unlikely feats, and that having come this far they are not going to be wanting for motivation. Richie McCaw and a host of other players have said that they are playing for Christchurch and their country as much as their fan-base, and that desire could fuel them in what should be a taxing encounter against the Reds.

The game will be won up front, as the Crusaders will translate their dominance at the set-pieces to the collisions and breakdowns. Unless the Reds can unsettle the Crusaders at the set-phase, they will battle to contain the Cantabrian ball-carriers.

I disagree with Vrede who argues that the Crusaders favour a ball-in-hand approach. While they are dangerous when they lay the platform and then unleash their impressive back division, they are even more of a threat from the turnover. Because of the pressure up front, the Reds’ halfback pairing of Quade Cooper and Will Genia are not going to have much room, and if their tactical kicking is off target, it will provide the Crusaders’ back three with an opportunity to counter-attack. If the Reds aren’t accurate at the breakdown, then the Crusaders have the means to make that turnover and finish at the opposite end of the park.

As I mentioned earlier in the week, Dan Carter is the man you’d back to nail those pressure kicks. Cooper has struggled for consistency this season, and missed three attempts in the league game against the Crusaders. He will need to goal every opportunity if the Reds are to deny the Crusaders another Super Rugby crown. Crusaders by 5

Reds - 15 Jono Lance, 14 Rod Davies, 13 Anthony Faingaa, 12 Ben Tapuai, 11 Digby Ioane, 10 Quade Cooper, 9 Will Genia, 8 Radike Samo, 7 Beau Robinson, 6 Scott Higginbotham, 5 James Horwill (c), 4 Rob Simmons, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Saia Faingaa, 1 Ben Daley.
Subs: 16 James Hanson, 17 Guy Shepherdson, 18 Adam Wallace-Harrison, 19 Jake Schatz, 20 Liam Gill, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Will Chambers.

Crusaders – 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Luke Romano/Chris Jack, 19 Matt Todd, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i Heinz, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Ryan Crotty