Crusaders unchanged for Super Rugby Final

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has predictably made no changes for Saturday night’s Super Rugby grand final against the Waratahs in Sydney.

Given the way his team dismantled the Sharks 38-6 in Christchurch last weekend there was always an expectation Blackadder would roll out the same side for the showdown at the Olympic Park’s ANZ Stadium.

Before the semi at AMI Stadium in Christchurch, the selections of All Blacks Richie McCaw and Dan Carter in the less-familiar positions of blindside flanker and second five-eighth created some debate, but Blackadder’s selections proved sound.

Once again he has enlisted Matt Todd at openside flanker and Colin Slade at first-five.

The Crusaders back row of captain and No 8 Kieran Read, Todd and McCaw provided multiple threats on attack against the Sharks with Read and Todd prominent with ball carries out wide.

Slade took on a slightly different role against the Sharks, at times dropping back to the right flank to de-fuse high kicks with his uncanny knack of being in the right place at the right time to rise-up and grab the high ball.

Despite not being at his preferred No 10 spot, Carter’s influence on the backline has been immense and Blackadder will expect the 100-test playmaker to again exert his influence in the grand final.

Blackadder said he had no concerns about the Crusaders being caught unawares because they hadn’t met the Waratahs during the round-robin.

“There is an unknown element given that we haven’t played the Waratahs so far this year, but that goes for both teams,” Blackadder said.

“We are just focused on being as prepared as we can be to put in the best performance we’re capable of.

“We know we have the game of our lives ahead of us but are not daunted by the challenge, we are looking forward to it.

”We’ve got a group of men who want this badly and who have the talent to do it.”

The Crusaders flew to Sydney yesterday and were based at the Olympic Park complex. They would have their final training today before staging a captain’s run tomorrow.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (captain), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Dominic Bird, Sam Whitelock, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.

stuff

RJ Benjamin to perform at Miss Namibia Pageant 2014 on Saturday night

RJ Benjamin is the guest artist for this years Miss Namibia 2014 pageant which will be held at the Windhoek County Club Resort on Saturday 2 August 2014 .

RJ’s last 12 months have been filled with loads of musical mentoring and for the 2nd year in a row he was appointed as the musical director on Mzansi Magic’s ‘Clash Of The Choirs’.
Later this year he will rejoin Idols South Africa for their tenth season as the In-house mentor.“I’ve always been passionate about unearthing talent,” he says.

RJ”s Current single “So High ” featuring CanSkylark is currently riding the charts holding down the number 4 position on the Heart 104.9fm Top 30.

In all the years of playing his music RJ has never been to Windhoek and is really looking forward to the trip. ” I have worked with Martin Myers before at the Miss SA 2010 and with Mary Reynolds at the same event and am excited to work with people like JP Willson who seems to do amazing thing with lights on shows having seem previous Miss Namibia pictures .

As far as the songs I will be doing , it will be a mix that suites the show ,but to have an opportunity to perform in Namibia at their national pageant is something I am looking forward to .

RJ plans on releasing his 5th studio album entitled ‘The 5th Story’ before the start of Idols X.

The album will feature Ziyon (formerly of Liquideep), Proverb and Cape Town based singer Can Skylark.

Look at the Crusaders and see an All Blacks mentality

Look at the Crusaders and see an All Blacks mentality, which is why they are my favourites.

After what I saw them do to the Highlanders, I’m even more convinced of their ability to win this from here.

This is the part of the season they love. They have managed their All Blacks superbly and they know how to win big games.

Their performances this year, in what all fans would agree has been the toughest and most competitive Super Rugby season on record, continue to impress.

No Dan Carter? That’s OK, we’ll just bring in Colin Slade. Richie McCaw’s injured? Don’t worry, we’ll play Matt Todd there. George Whitelock has moved on, it’s cool we have this kid named Jordan Taufua.

They are the masters of introducing players into their system who immediately pick up the mantle.

You can see it in the franchise’s expectations annually. Anything other than a play-offs position is deemed an abject failure. The bar is set so high.

This is new territory for the Tahs and they are simply not as experienced as the likes of Todd Blackadder’s troops.

What we have now is working perfectly fine.

- Sunday Star Times

Richie McCaw the anxiety will never go away

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 127 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.

”Yeah, definitely. It is a good sort of nerves, though,” McCaw said.

”These are the moments that you want to be involved in and games you want to play in. You go through all the hard work for three, four or five months to give yourselves a shot at this game.

”From a personal point of view you want to go out play well for the team to give yourself a chance.”

The flanker, who is again expected to start at No 6 to allow Matt Todd to remain at openside, is well aware of what is required to give his team the opportunity to win their eighth title.

Since his debut in 2001 he has played in seven grand finals and celebrated winning four of them.

When the Crusaders last won a title in 2008 McCaw was the captain. Now Kieran Read is the side’s leader, having been appointed to that role at the start of last season.

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is unlikely to make any changes to his side which will be named when they are in Sydney on Thursday.

McCaw has made just eight appearances this season. He broke his thumb early in the campaign and then suffered a fractured rib while leading the All Blacks against England last month.

After having a month’s rest to allow his ribs to heal McCaw was welcomed back for last weekend’s semifinal against the Sharks by a team-mate who accidentally stepped on his face, and opened up a wound near the eye, in the warm-ups.

Rather than let the injury distract him McCaw played like a man possessed and his combination with Todd proved instrumental in the Crusaders loose forward unit playing a key role in the 38-6 win over the Sharks at AMI Stadium.

Now the Crusaders have found themselves in the unique situation of having to face a Waratahs side they never played in the regular season.

”It is a little bit different, you haven’t got the past experience of it,” McCaw acknowledged. ”The coaches do a fair bit of that (analysing the Waratahs) and most of us, over this week, will have a bit of a look at it.

”It’s more understanding that if you give them ball with space they are a team that want to have a crack and have got some playmakers that do that. We just have to make sure we limit that.”

Talented fetcher Michael Hooper and blindside flanker Stephen Hoiles, along with No 8 Wycliff Palu, will be matched against the Crusaders back row of Read, McCaw and Todd but it is the Waratahs backline where the Crusaders are expecting more of the ball-running action.

While the Sharks refused to go outside of their conservative mindset of largely kicking first and asking questions with the ball later, McCaw expects the Australians to utilise strike attackers such as Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Alofa Alofa, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale.

”That just comes down to pressure,” McCaw said in reference to shutting down the Waratahs backs.

”We have got to make sure we don’t give them space and put the pressure on them. You allow them to get their tails up and confidence because of what they have done all year, they will be a tough animal.

stuff.co.nz

Jake White speaks about Sharks defeat to Crusaders

The Sharks returned home yesterday humbled by the scale of their 38-6 reverse against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby semi-final but they offered no excuses, and their coach Jake White took the optimistic view that valuable lessons had been learned by coaching staff and players alike in their first season together.

“We just did not pitch on the day, and I wish I could tell you why,” White said yesterday. “It could have been the travel, it could have been selection, it could have been this and it could have been that, and who knows what else but the fact remains that we came up against a red-hot Crusaders team and they dominated us to the extent that we could not fire a shot back at them, and that is the most disappointing thing about the game.”

White said that the encouraging thing is that the players acknowledged they had failed to respond to the intensity and passion with which the Crusaders had started the game and then maintained until the final whistle when they mauled a try from a lineout at the corner flag that was typical of how the Sharks have often scored this season.

“I would have been a more worried man had I not seen now disappointed the players were in the change room after the game because they knew they should have given a better account of themselves,” White said. “They knew we had not given it our best shot despite all our pre-game determination to do otherwise.”

White said the game reminded him of the 2009 final between the Bulls and the Chiefs when the Kiwis were blown away by 60 points in Pretoria. The Bulls could do nothing wrong on that night while the Chiefs, at best, could not get beyond second gear.

“The Crusaders were really good on the night and even their kicking was much better than ours, which is usually a strength of ours,” White said. “They kicked twice as much as us and twice as well.”

At the three-quarter mark, White said he realised that “the horse had bolted” and emptied his bench, even if it meant bringing off key players in Bismarck du Plessis, Jannie du Plessis, Cobus Reinach et al.

“We could have kept on all the front-line guys and tried to battle it out to a closer score, but the truth is that we could not win the game and I brought on all the substitutes so that they could get a feel of what it is like to play a team like the Crusaders when they are firing on all cylinders,” White said.

“It was about growing the squad in a big-game situation,” he said. “The game was lost but experience could be gained, and we must not forget that this was the first season that I was working with this squad, and them with me.”

The coach correctly pointed out that the season was hardly a failure for a Sharks team than convincingly advanced much further than any other South African team and had indeed wrapped up the South African Conference not long after the half way mark in the competition.

“There has been a historical tendency for SA teams that have won the Currie Cup to follow up with poor showings in Super Rugby, but that did not happen with us,” White said. “But why we failed so miserably in the semi-final is difficult to answer. The most important thing is that the players know it was not good enough, that we let ourselves down, and we left Christchurch having gained a heck of a lot of experience, and that goes for the entire group of players and coaches.”

by Mike Greenaway

Sharks -Super Rugby wrap -what happened ?

Just not good enough on the day is how it appeared in the weekend’s Super Rugby semi-final defeat for the Sharks against the Crusaders in Christchurch, but is there more to it than meets the eye for a a Durban team than has been in more semi-finals and finals than any other South African team in 18 years of Super Rugby, yet has never clinched the crown?

The Bulls have three titles, the Sharks have none, and the Stormers are South Africa’s perennial underachievers.

The Lions and the Cheetahs have only threatened in the play-offs when they were combined as the Cats and for two seasons at the turn of the millennium, former All Blacks coach Laurie Mains welded them into a formidable bunch.

Otherwise it has been mainly been the Sharks that have spearheaded the South African challenge since 1996, but they have never quite had the game to go all the way and win a title.

This year was no different. They led the competition until the three-quarter mark and had the South African Conference wrapped up not long past the half way mark. For so long it seemed that the Sharks would have a home semi-final and then possibly a home final.

But the overall log saw them finish in third place, just one solitary point behind the Crusaders, the team who thus had the advantage of a week off from the quarter-finals and the luxury of not having to travel 12 000 kilometres for a semi.

The Sharks failed spectacularly in the semi-finals, as we painfully saw at the weekend, dismally failing to impose their game plan on a Crusaders team that until the Sharks beat them at home in May, had not lost in 50 games against touring South African teams since Northern Transvaal won there in 1996.

They were not going to lose to the Sharks again in a hurry. Not in the same season.

But for that solitary point separating the Sharks and the Crusaders on the overall log, it could have been so different. Just one point between hosting a semi-final and having to travel overseas for one, having first had to negotiate a quarter-final.

The Crusaders were mid table at the half way mark, the Sharks were the leaders, and they came home from tour with three wins from four games, including that famous win over the Crusaders on their home turf.

And then as the bell sounded for the final lap of the circuit, the Sharks’ legs became wobbly at times while the Crusaders found a second wind and would ultimaty pip the Sharks at the post for that invaluable home semi-final.

Just one point, as we have said. The detractors of the way the Sharks play rugby would say that could have come the way of a try scoring bonus point, something the Sharks miraculously achieved in their first two games in the hectic humidity of February, had they been more adventurous.

They did not manage it again as they settled in to their strategy of kick-first, suffocate and then muscle over the line, and it has to be said that this strategy became firmer policy once flyhalf general Patrick Lambie was injured early in the campaign.

Just one point between hosting the Crusaders and travelling to their sub-zero ground …

We could say that the invaluable points were lost when the Sharks underestimated the Highlanders on April 25 in the eve of their tour overseas, and limply lost to a fired-up Highlanders team that almost repeated the feat in the quarter-finals.

Some would say that it was the loss in Bloemfontein on July 5 when the 15th-placed Cheetahs beat the log leading Sharks, but in truth the Sharks were not that bad that day, even if some players were rotated, and the truth is that was the day a Cheetahs team that had been playing way below their potential chose to play their “cup final”.

So where did it ultimately go wrong for the Sharks in a 2014 campaign that should have ended with home play-off games and a final at Kings Park. It probably came down to the final 20 seconds of the post-tour match against the Stormers, when a jaded Sharks team seemed to have done enough to edge home against a rejuvenated Cape team.

A poorly directed kick from the Sharks scrumhalf on the field at the time, Charl McLeod, gave the Stormers a chance for a counter attack, and from the unlikeliest sources, fullback Jaco Taute, came a fluke drop goal that won his team the game and it quite possibly sunk the Sharks’ hopes of the sweet comforts of home. Such are the margins in Super Rugby … and the difference between Kings Park and Christchurch.

By Mike Greenaway

ALL BLACK SQUAD FOR 2014 Rugby Championship

The All Blacks selectors, Steve Hansen, Ian Foster and Grant Fox, have today named a squad balanced with experience and youth for the 2014 Investec Rugby Championship.

The squad is as follows: (with province, Super Rugby team and Test caps).

Forwards:

Hookers
Dane Coles Wellington / Hurricanes (18)
Keven Mealamu Auckland / Blues (113)

Props
Wyatt Crockett Canterbury / Crusaders (27)
Charlie Faumuina Auckland / Blues (20)
Ben Franks Hawke’s Bay / Hurricanes (31)
Owen Franks Canterbury / Crusaders (57)
Tony Woodcock North Harbour / Blues (110)

Locks
Dominic Bird Canterbury / Crusaders (1)
Brodie Retallick Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (27)
Patrick Tuipulotu Auckland / Blues (2)
Samuel Whitelock Canterbury / Crusaders (54)

Loose forwards
Sam Cane Bay of Plenty / Chiefs (14)
Jerome Kaino Auckland / Blues (51)
Steven Luatua Auckland / Blues (11)
Richie McCaw (c) Canterbury / Crusaders (127)
Liam Messam Waikato / Chiefs (32)
Kieran Read Canterbury / Crusaders (62)

Backs:

Halfbacks
Tawera Kerr-Barlow Waikato / Chiefs (14)
TJ Perenara Wellington/ Hurricanes (3)
Aaron Smith Manawatu / Highlanders (29)

First five-eighths
Beauden Barrett Taranaki / Hurricanes (19)
Daniel Carter Canterbury / Crusaders (100)
Aaron Cruden Manawatu / Chiefs (32)

Midfielders
Malakai Fekitoa Auckland / Highlanders (2)
Ma’a Nonu Wellington / Blues (91)
Conrad Smith Wellington / Hurricanes (77)

Outside backs
Israel Dagg Hawke’s Bay / Crusaders (39)
Cory Jane Wellington / Hurricanes (48)
Charles Piutau Auckland / Blues (10)
Ben Smith Otago / Highlanders (29)
Julian Savea Wellington/ Hurricanes (22)

Crusaders and Canterbury prop Joe Moody has also been brought in as an injury replacement for Tony Woodcock who will miss the start of the Investec Rugby Championship with a shoulder injury.

The 31-strong squad, which will again be captained by the All Blacks indomitable, regular skipper Richie McCaw, features the return of the world’s leading Test points scorer Daniel Carter, who is back in the national side after his extended break; and the return of Blues and Auckland outside back Charles Piutau and Chiefs and Bay of Plenty loose forward Sam Cane, who both missed the recent Steinlager Series against England through injury.

Chiefs and Bay of Plenty hooker Nathan Harris will assemble with the All Blacks for the domestic part of the season as part of his ongoing hooker “apprenticeship” with the national side.

Players from this year’s Steinlager Series squad who have missed out on selection are the Crusaders and Canterbury trio of Colin Slade, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd, while Hurricanes and Wellington loose forward Victor Vito and Crusaders and Canterbury lock Luke Romano were not considered for selection due to injury.

The squad is made up of 17 forwards (two hookers, five props, four locks and six loose forwards) and 14 backs (three halfbacks, three first five-eighths, three midfielders and five outside backs) and has a combined total of 1,272 Test caps (757 in the forwards and 515 in the backs) and an average age of 26.

The All Blacks squad will assemble on Wednesday this week for a two-day camp on Auckland’s North Shore minus the eight players in the Crusaders, who will be preparing for this weekend’s Super Rugby Final. In their absence, a number of other players will be brought into the camp: hookers Harris and the Hurricanes’ Motu Matu’u; props Pauliasi Manu from the Chiefs and Highlander Kane Hames; Hurricanes lock Jeremy Thrush; loose forwards Liam Squire from the Chiefs and Shane Christie from the Highlanders.

All Blacks Head Coach Steve Hansen said the selectors had faced a difficult task in trimming the squad down to 31.

“In doing so, we had to leave out players who are performing at a very, very high level and they could consider themselves unlucky not to be selected. But while we feel for those guys, unfortunately, we have to make the hard decisions.”

Hansen also said the selectors had been hugely impressed with the way the All Blacks players had been playing in the last month for their Investec Super Rugby teams and it augured well for the Investec Rugby Championship.

“We are now looking forward to bringing the players together and building on the progress we made in the Steinlager Series against England.

“The Investec Rugby Championship gives us the next opportunity to see where we are at and it doesn’t get much bigger than back-to-back Bledisloe Cup Tests to kick it off.

“It’s going to be another intense competition. South Africa and Australia are ranked second and third in the world and both had successful June Test series, while Argentina will again bring the physicality and passion which we know they are renowned for. They will also bring the knowledge and experience which comes from playing in The Rugby Championship and we are expecting them to improve further.”

The squad features representation across all New Zealand’s Investec Super Rugby teams with three Highlanders players, eight Crusaders, seven Hurricanes, five Chiefs and eight Blues, while ten provinces are represented, led by Auckland and Canterbury (seven players each) with Wellington (six); Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Hawke’s Bay and Manawatu (two each); and Taranaki, North Harbour and Otago (one each).

Following the two-day camp this week, the All Blacks will re-assemble in Auckland on Thursday 7 August to prepare for the opening Test of the competition, the Bledisloe Cup clash against Australia in Sydney on Saturday 16 August.

The Investec Rugby Championship – All Blacks Tests

1. Australia (ANZ Stadium, Sydney, 8.05PM, Saturday 16 August)
2. Australia (Eden Park, Auckland, 7.35PM, Saturday 23 August)
3. Argentina (McLean Park, Napier, 7.35PM, Saturday 6 September)
4. South Africa (Westpac Stadium, Wellington, 7.35PM, Saturday 13 September)
5. Argentina (Estadio Ciudad de La Plata, La Plata, 7.10PM, Sat 27 September)
6. South Africa (Ellis Park, Johannesburg, 5.05PM, Saturday 4 October)

All Blacks – The Highlights

* Since the 2011 Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks have played 31 Tests, with 29 wins, one draw and one loss, for a winning record of 95 percent.

* The All Blacks head in to the Investec Rugby Championship on the back of an unbeaten season last year and a three-Test Steinlager Series victory over England in June.

* The All Blacks have won The Rugby Championship for the past two years, held The Bledisloe Cup (played between New Zealand and Australia) since 2003 and The Freedom Cup (played between New Zealand and South Africa) since 2010.

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