Another season has come and passed and as per usual, we have a final with at least one team from New Zealand contesting it. 2010 was the last time there wasn’t a representative from the land of the long white cloud but, for the first time this year, we have a bolter from Argentina looking to upset the apple cart.
The Crusaders will host the show piece event for the second year at their home in Christchurch, following their epic victory over their domestic rivals, The Hurricanes, last weekend. The men from Canterbury are also looking to emulate their legendary team of 2000 in completing a hat-trick of consecutive wins.
Standing in their way will be the impressive Jaguares from Argentina. The South American’s have had a stellar season in the African conference by finishing ten points clear of their nearest rivals. Winning away has always been the Achilles heel of past seasons but this year they have bucked that trend and won five of their eight away matches which included a win over The Hurricanes in Wellington and a battering of the Sharks in Durban.
The home team are the ones that are licking their wounds the most from last week and will have to cope without the services of two of their most influential players. Scott Barrett has a fractured finger that will keep him out for six weeks whilst Ryan Crotty fractured his thumb and was substituted after 45 minutes on Saturday. Crotty was peerless in the semi-final before this injury curtailed his time on the field.
The Jaguares have no such worries and last week we witnessed all of their top Los Pumas internationals step up to the plate in front of 31,000 screaming fans in Buenos Aires.
The performance in the Estadio Jose Amalfitani was a perfect demonstration of the kind of exciting and fast paced rugby we can expect from them at this year’s rugby World Cup. Four of their five tries were scored by the backs following insightful and powerful lines through the middle coupled with an ability to stay calm under pressure with an overlap.
Tomas Cubelli, Matias Orlando (2 tries) and Emiliano Boffelli were the beneficiaries but any of their starting seven backs could have had a hatful of tries such was their contribution.
The pace and power that they possess can open up any team at any moment and their confidence is as high as a kite at the moment but this is the Crusaders, in Christchurch, searching for their tenth final victory.
The culture and winning mentality that Scott Robertson has created at the kiwi franchise over the past three years makes them almost unbeatable at home in big matches like this. Last week, The ‘Canes came back time and time again but the ‘Saders have match winners all over the field and stayed calm in the belief that whatever is thrown at them, they don’t panic, stick to their systems on the field and inevitably come away with the win.
Unfortunately, with the way that Super Rugby is structured, we need to talk about the time zone difference that will play its part as well. The Jaguares must travel through 15 time zones to get to New Zealand and then shake that off in 5 or 6 days. It means training is affected and not just the match itself. Preparation needs to be altered because of jet lag and no matter how physically fit these players are, it’s bound to have a negative impact.
The travelling party won’t use it as an excuse should they not be victorious but it needs to be taken into consideration when trying to predict what is going to happen in those 80 minutes of the final.
When they travelled to Australasia earlier in the season they lost to the Highlanders, one of the weaker Kiwi franchises, but beat the Hurricanes a week later followed by back to back wins in Australia against the Brumbies and the Reds. The first week on tour is the hardest.
One other side note for this match is that these two teams haven’t met yet this season. In winning their conferences it meant that they were kept apart in the knockout stages and with no match up in the regular season, there is no palpable form between the two teams that we can draw on. It only makes this game more intriguing.
Home field advantage is the biggest key to success though and for that reason alone the Crusaders will start as clear favourites. That’s before you throw in the ability of players like Richie Mo’unga, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue and Sam Whitelock into the mix for good measure.
The Jaguares will come at them with everything that they have and will no doubt have some clever ploys up their sleeves do try and disrupt the Crusaders attacking rhythm but I seriously doubt that they have an 80-minute performance in those travel weary legs of theirs.
It’ll be tight for the first 60 minutes but the home team will make history and add that remarkable tenth title to their already bulging trophy cabinet.
CRUSADERS BY 21
Photo Credit: Steve Haag Sports