New Zealand Rugby
It couldn’t be a more familiar sight. The Crusaders, Super Rugby’s most successful team, arriving to play in another final and Richie McCaw, the most capped All Black ever, sporting a freshly stitched gash under his eye.
The team from Christchurch is after its eighth title and, even away from home, bookmakers are taking three times the money from punters on a Crusaders win.
The Crusaders have history on their side, having beaten the Waratahs in two previous Super Rugby finals.
But this time they are in Sydney, where they haven’t played all season, and McCaw is paying no attention to past records.
A State of Origin-esque sea of blue, an Australian Super Rugby crowd record and the biggest take-up of corporate packages since the Manchester United exhibition match say ANZ Stadium will be the furthest thing from a ”neutral venue” when the Waratahs take on the Crusaders this Saturday.
As Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder and countless New Zealand pundits latched on to the notion the All Blacks’ 54 per cent win record at the Homebush Bay venue would take the sting out of the Waratahs’ home ground advantage this weekend, match organisers were putting the finishing touches to a plan to ensure it will do anything but.
Todd Blackadder cannot believe the Waratahs have ditched their fortress to chase the almighty dollar.
If Crusaders coach Blackadder was in counterpart Michael Cheika’s shoes he would never allow anyone, or any amount of cash, to persuade him to give up home advantage for a Super Rugby grand final.
Rather than play Saturday night’s much-anticipated match at Allianz Stadium, where they have been unbeaten all season, the Waratahs have agreed to relocate to the less familiar – but bigger – ANZ Stadium at Olympic.
Nemani Nadolo’s thick Australian accent is just one tell-tale sign the New South Wales Waratahs’ decision to let the rampaging winger slip through their fingers could come back to haunt them on Saturday.
The Fiji international crossed the Tasman Sea with his Crusaders side today intent on clinching their eighth Super Rugby title in the final against the Waratahs, who cut him loose after a solitary season in 2009.
“When you are unwanted and have got to go elsewhere and find opportunities I guess when the door shut there you do feel a bit sad,” Nadolo told Television New Zealand of his dumping by the Waratahs before the Crusaders flew to Sydney.
The Crusaders’ forwards, who provided the platform for their semifinal victory over the Sharks with a dominant performance that at times embarrassed the big South Africans, are targeting an improved effort for Saturday’s final against the Waratahs.
Like the Sharks, the Waratahs’ pack is extremely big – lock Will Skelton weighs 137kg – but there is a suspicion they can be brought down to size with aggression and firepower, something this Crusaders outfit has in abundance.
Injured All Blacks centre Conrad Smith will make his return to the field after recovering from a broken thumb in a rare outing for his provincial side Wellington on Friday.
The 32-year-old injured the thumb during last month’s Test series against England and missed the third match, with rookie Malakai Fekitoa making his first start at centre in the 36-13 victory.
Smith was named in Steve Hansen’s All Blacks squad for the Rugby Championship on Monday, indicating he would be available for the first clash against Australia in Sydney on 16 August.
Opinions in New Zealand rugby are divided on the details of how many top tier fifteens players should be made available for a tilt at Olympic sevens and how those players should be transitioned into rugby’s abbreviated game.
New Zealand Rugby Union chief executive Steve Tew confirmed today a number of top tier Super Rugby players and All Blacks would prioritise sevens in 2016 in the lead up to the Rio de Janeiro Games.
However, he said there was plenty of debate around exactly how that process would be handled and hinted the failure to win gold in Glasgow would be factored into discussions.
Corey Flynn concedes there’s nothing like a jolt of electricity to help determine a career path.
Things are trucking along pretty nicely for the 33-year-old these days but if he wasn’t a professional rugby player he isn’t certain what occupation he would have chosen after leaving Southland Boys’ High School.
Well, he is sure about one thing: He wasn’t going to work in an industry where he risked getting zapped from bare wires.
“I was looking at an electrical apprenticeship but that wasn’t my forte,” Flynn reflects. “Electricity scares the hell out of me because you can’t see it and I took a couple of boots.”
Andy Ellis is not the world’s best number nine. He is not even rated in the top three half backs in his own country by the All Blacks coach.
But the 30-year-old scrapper may well be the most influential player on the pitch in the Super 15 final.
Ellis is a very good gauge of how the Crusaders are travelling. When Ellis is going well, the Cantabs are going well.
When Ellis is searching for his game and his energy, the Crusaders often become stilted, predictable and unsure of themselves.
The little big man – do all half backs have a Napoleon complex? – was superb in the semifinal against the Sharks.
The Crusaders deliberately shortened their kicking game to put the Sharks backfield under constant pressure and Ellis was at the forefront of the tactic.
Getting ditched from the All Blacks wasn’t how Colin Slade wanted to prepare for his first Super Rugby grand final.
He can’t do anything about his omission from Steve Hansen’s Rugby Championship squad but the first five-eighth could think of better ways to begin what should be one of the most memorable weeks of his career as the Crusaders focus on meeting the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night.
The timing might have been terrible but one thing is certain: Slade isn’t going to have a whinge about it.
“I had probably prepared myself, a little bit, for it,” Slade shrugged.
“It’s a bit of a numbers game isn’t it? You can’t take everyone.”
A look back at a handful of classic contests between the Waratahs and the Crusaders this century.
2001: Waratahs 25-22 Crusaders
The last time the Waratahs defeated the Crusaders was way back in 2001 when the Waratahs ended the Crusaders hopes of defending their Super 12 title and kept their own semi-final hopes alive.
In the tight match-up it took over 35-minutes for the first points to be scored before the Waratahs lead 10-3 into half-time.
The Crusaders hit the Waratahs hard during the second half to take the lead 17-15 for the first time during the match, but a converted try and penalty to Matt Burke put the Waratahs out of reach with a 25-17 lead, while a missed conversion to Ben Blair saw the side fall three-points short 25-22.
In the mould of Blackadder, no not that one, you are thinking of Todd, I’m talking about the other one, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has a cunning plan… to emulate Jake White and get his possible reasons for potential failure on record 4 days before kick off.
White complained about how skewered and unfair the competition is for the sides ending outside of the top 2 spots. White though, as a cunning strategist, is small fry compared to the brilliance that is Cheika.
Cheika, realizing that because his side ended top of the combined log and therefor he couldn’t use the “we didn’t get an extra week’s rest” excuse, had to dig really deep, and boy, he didn’t disappoint.
In a move that would put Kasperov to shame, he has hatched a plan so cunning that not even Blofeldt could have thought it out.
With just one match of the Super Rugby season remaining, who have been the standout players for the year?
Matthew Burke reveals his top 12.
Choosing ten players proved tough, so I called on my chief researchers to help me out and, not surprisingly, the majority of the players that feature have played a part in the finals. We got down to 12, so here they are, in no particular order.
Do you agree with his choices?
The coach who has overseen the revival of the Waratahs declined to ratchet up the pressure on Crusaders counterpart Todd Blackadder today, by doubting the seven-time Super Rugby champions are stressed from not winning the title since 2008.
Michael Cheika appeared in a typically jovial pre-match mood as the Waratahs continued their preparations for Saturday’s clash between the competition’s first and second-ranked teams at ANZ Stadium.
During a wide-ranging preamble, Cheika neglected to play mind games with Blackadder, another former hard-nosed forward.
Crusaders flanker Richie McCaw knows from past experience, both sweet and bitter, that a crucial moment can decide Saturday’s Super Rugby final result against the Waratahs in Sydney.
“When it comes down to one or two moments, the teams that are good enough to take those opportunities are the ones that win,” the All Blacks captain said.
“If you drop your guard for one or two moments, you’ll come second.”
He will be making his eighth Super final appearance, the first being in 2002 against the Waratahs when the Crusaders won the competition for the fourth time.
For Richie McCaw the job of preparing for big rugby matches should be as simple as flicking dust off his shoes.
That, he says, is nonsense – the anxiety will never go away.
Despite playing 113 tests, appearing in three World Cups and making 137 appearances for the Crusaders, the 33-year-old flanker still finds himself burning-off nervous energy ahead of crucial matches such as Saturday night’s Super Rugby grand final against the Waratahs in Sydney.
If some of the Crusaders’ players needed any extra motivation to win Saturday’s Super Rugby grand final, then All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has provided it.
The Crusaders have eight players in the 31-man Rugby Championship test squad but three omissions were the talking point yesterday.
Hansen dropped Crusaders openside flanker Matt Todd, midfield back Ryan Crotty and first five-eighth Colin Slade.
Todd and Slade have been keeping All Blacks aces Richie McCaw and Dan Carter out of their preferred positions in the Super Rugby arena.
Hansen rang the trio to explain.
There’s something different about these Waratahs, who stand between the Crusaders and their eighth Super Rugby title, and I think I’ve worked out what it is.
They’ve finally stopped telling everyone how good they are; and just set about proving it on the field.
Over the years the drums would always get beaten whenever the Waratahs had a big pre-season or early season, and it was so often just noise. Inevitably they’d fail to live up to their own hype.
This year, conversely, they’ve done the most when they’ve said the least.
Rio de Janeiro seems a long way from a chilly summer night in Glasgow, but rugby sevens guru Gordon Tietjens has already sent out his wish list of stars for the next Olympics.
That includes Sonny Bill Williams, and current All Blacks Cory Jane, Liam Messam and Julian Savea, as he casts the net wide in the wake of the end of a Commonwealth Games era.
OPERATION “Get Carter” is being hatched at the Waratahs’ Moore headquarters this week, with NSW defence coach and hardman Nathan Grey devising a special strategy to smash Crusaders superstar Dan Carter out of the grand final.
The world’s greatest pointscorer stands in the way of the Waratahs first premiership, and the Tahs plan to ensure that Carter has no room to breathe when the teams collide in the decider at ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Waratahs enforcer Wycliff Palu successfully targeted Brumbies playmaker Matt Toomua in last weekend’s semi-final, and Tahs five-eighth Bernard Foley said they will have similar plans for Carter.
Several ex-New Zealand and Australia internationals have confirmed that they will lodge an application to switch allegiances to a Pacific Island nation with whom they hold a passport, with a view to participating at the Rugby World Cup in England next year.
With the inclusion of rugby 7s at the Olympics in 2016, there has been a change in eligibility laws that will see players who have represented one nation now eligible to play for another, if they hold a passport from that country.
If they have not played international rugby in the past 18 months, they will be eligible for their new country in the Sevens World Series or designated Regional Olympic Qualification Tournaments and would thus be able to play for that country in all forms of rugby.
South African Craig Joubert, the referee of the 2011 World Cup final between the All Blacks and France, has been appointed to control the final.
He will be assisted by Australians Steve Walsh and James Leckie.
The final will be contested between the Waratahs and the Crusaders in Sydney, Australia on Saturday the 2nd of August.
He accepted the adulation after scoring one of the most memorable tries of the Super Rugby season to secure the NSW Waratahs’ first home final, but Bernard Foley prefers to dwell on the defensive effort that set up a third title showdown with the Crusaders.
Foley’s completion of a sweeping counterattack in the 76th minute at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night was a belated reminder of the Waratahs’ offensive capabilities – though a bruising semifinal with the Brumbies also highlighted another champion-winning prerequisite: unyielding defence.
As the Waratahs headed for their first debrief today ahead of Saturday’s final at ANZ Stadium, the incumbent Wallabies first five-eighth was still marvelling at his side’s ability to withstand immense pressure and prevent the Brumbies scoring after halftime before they closed out a 26-8 victory.
Former All Black front-rower Eric Anderson has died.
Prop Anderson, who was 83, played 10 matches for the All Blacks on the tour of Australia and South Africa, scoring two tries against Western Australia.
The semifinal was a really good win for the Crusaders; it was a great win for Todd Blackadder and his staff.
Blackadder out-thought and out-coached the Sharks’ Jake White and it is not often you say that about the former World Cup-winning coach.
Star flyhalf Dan Carter has been returned to the All Blacks squad for this season’s Rugby Championships against Australia, South Africa and Argentina at the expense of his Crusaders’ teammate Colin Slade.
Carter, the world’s leading points-scorer in tests with 1,440, missed New Zealand’s June test matches against England while on a seven-months “sabbatical” from rugby during which he toured the world, attending events such as this year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
The 32-year-old returned to the Crusaders squad for its most-recent matches in Super Rugby, including Saturday’s semifinal against the Sharks, but has been playing at inside center to allow Slade to continue at flyhalf.
Injured skipper Dave Dennis believes Waratahs’ unity will see them win Super Rugby title.
THE Waratahs must overcome one of the longest losing streaks in professional sport to win their first Super Rugby grand final, but injured skipper Dave Dennis believes his team’s unshakable unity will finally deliver a win and the premiership against the Crusaders on Saturday.
The Tahs have not been beaten the Crusaders in a decade, losing 11 straight games that include their previous two grand finals in 2005 and 2008.
At last the Crusaders have a chance to erase the nightmare of losing the 2011 grand final.
Having ripped apart the Sharks 38-6 in Saturday night’s semifinal at AMI Stadium, the Crusaders now prepare to carry their rage to Sydney for this weekend’s grand final against the Waratahs – a side floating high on the back of eight consecutive wins.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, as much as anyone, will have been praying for this chance.
The only other time the Crusaders have qualified for a grand final under his control was when they met the Reds in Brisbane in 2011; and that epic campaign, when games were played out of Christchurch because of the earthquakes, ended with a 18-13 defeat.
Colin Slade may be keeping Dan Carter out of the No 10 jersey for the grand final-bound Crusaders but he is likely to be the backline casualty when the All Blacks’ Rugby Championship squad is named today.
Slade was called up for the England series to cover first five-eighth and fullback with Aucklander Charles Piutau out injured and Aaron Cruden still in the early stages of his comeback from a broken thumb.
But Slade did not play, with Cruden proving his fitness to start all three tests and Beauden Barrett used in reserve.
Dan Carter, refreshed after his break away from the game and energised by his performance against the Sharks and the opportunities of the week ahead, is promising more.
The All Blacks No10, excelling in his role at second-five for the Crusaders outside Colin Slade, expects an improvement from his team for the final against the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night, and, just as importantly for a winner-takes-all match, better accuracy from his goalkicking.