This weekend sees the emphatic return of the Super Rugby following the international summer tour break. After a somewhat turbulent few weeks for some and business as usual for others, it’s back to the grind for the business end of the season.
With the Crusaders slightly ahead of the Chiefs going into Round 15, we look at the chances of the Christchurch based side as they seek to win an eighth Super Rugby title since its inception in 1996. The Crusaders go into the Round just 3 points ahead of nearest rivals the Lions and fittingly, this weekend’s opponents the Chiefs. You could say the Lions have been the surprise showing this season, or you could say their dominance over their conference rivals was destined, depending on your stance. But they have been one of most consistent teams overall.
With 9 wins from 12 games for both the Lions and the Chiefs, I think it would be safe to say the winners of this weekend’s clash could go on and challenge for the title. Following the Chiefs encounter, Todd Blackadder’s Crusaders take on the Rebels followed by the Hurricanes – both at home. Comparatively, the Chiefs final two games sees them away to the Reds before an away tie at the Highlanders. But with the Lions hosting the Sharks in Jo’burg this weekend before entertaining the Southern Kings and then away to the Jaguares, you could say the Lions have the better run in.
But looking objectively, it’s more than likely all three teams will make the playoffs as the higher seeds. The Crusaders certainly have form going into this fixture with only one loss in their last three matches – away to the Highlanders – never an easy game! Whereas the Chiefs have 2 losses – the Waratahs and again the Highlanders.
The Crusaders have seven All Blacks returning to the match day 23 in what is, essentially, a near full strength side – Israel Dagg takes his place at full back following his standout performances against Wales in the Steinlager Series. For the Chiefs, Stephen Donald comes in for Aaron Cruden, who drops to the bench, at first-five, with Hika Elliot making his 100th appearance.
You’d have to say the Crusaders certainly look the strongest on paper, in what promises to be an epic encounter as both teams make history in the first ever Super Rugby fixture in Suva, Fiji.
Brad Weber and Damian McKenzie for the Chiefs and Nemani Nadolo and Richie Mo’Unga for the Crusaders have all been scoring tries for fun this campaign, so expect tries as both teams show off their attacking prowess.
This game could be the turning point for the Crusaders’ season. Win in Suva and they’ll back themselves going forward into the playoffs. Expect the Crusaders to secure a spot in what would be their twelfth final in eighteen years. There’s certainly good things to come from this Crusaders team in the post McCaw and Carter era, particularly after a poor showing in 2015 and finishing in a very modest seventh overall.
You’d be forgiven if you, like me, find it astonishingly confusing getting to grips with the new format in this year’s route to the final. In doing so for the Crusaders, their potential path could be as follows:
Home quarter final tie v the Sharks
Home semi final tie v the Highlanders
Final tie v the Chiefs
Don’t hold me to that, but I’d predict an all New Zealand affair in the semi finals. Looking more to this weekend though, I’d edge the Crusaders over the Chiefs. Prediction? Crusaders by 5.