this afternoon two of Super Rugbys’ most enterprising teams do battle

MIKE GREENAWAY

RUGBY’s northern hemisphere is set for an invigorating breath of fresh air this afternoon when two of Super Rugbys’ most enterprising teams do battle for vital competition points at the hallowed home of rugby.

The recently ended Six Nations was a mostly dull affair but rugby in that part of the world will surely be set alight by the Sharks and the Crusaders, both of whom are committed to high-tempo, ball-in-hand rugby as promoted by last year’s new law focuses, and given the numbers of Springboks and All Blacks on show, this will be a timely warning to the North of what is in store for them at the Rugby World Cup in September.

This might sound presumptious but in all honesty two teams of this quality can only provide superior fare to the tepid, slow-motion Six Nations, and the Southerners will be further fuelled by the novelty of the grand occasion. This fixture would have been played in Nelson in remote Canterbury at a 10 000-seater stadium had England’s RFU not played ball. The contrast with a possibly sold-out Twickenham (the RFU have reduced capacity from 82 000 to 55 000 because of scaled-down Sunday public transport) could not be more extreme, and there is a good chance that the majority of the fans will be in black and white as opposed to black and red given the estimation that there is an estimated 900 000 South Africans and 250 000 New Zealanders in the greater London Metropolitan area.

Mind you, this match will be seen by Kiwis in London as an opportunity to show their patriotism in the wake of the February 22 earthquake and make a financial contribution to the relief fund (five pounds of each ticket goes to the New Zealand Red Cross).

No matter the composition of the crowd, the atmosphere is bound to be good. For starters, the usually rigid and unimaginative RFU have apparently got into the spirit of the Southern invasion and permitted stands selling boerewors rolls and traditional New Zealand meat pies.

And being a Crusaders “home” fixture, they have been permitted to provide the off-field entertainment, which includes the national anthems to be sung by Kiwi Geoff Sewell of Incognito, a professional tenor and multi-platform selling recording artist with over 3.5million album sales worldwide, as well as half-time tunes from Christchurch born soprano Hayley Westenra.

National anthems? That is definitley a first for Super Rugby and is an indication of the sense of occasion attached to this match.

The sideshows are all over the place, so it was interesting to hear the sobering words of Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, who in his playing days captained the Crusaders to three of their seven titles: “The important thing on arrival here was to realise that we are not a travelling circus and this is all about competition points.”

This single-mindedness is typical of the most successful team in 15 years of Super Rugby history.

Since finishing 10th in 2001 – a momentary lapse of reason after winning the title in 1998,1999 and 2000 – the Crusaders have won four more titles, made the final on two more occasions and been in the semi finals in the other years.

Their last title was in 2008 and since then they have been rebuilding a new champion team.

Their backline has five current All Blacks and another who could well be the star of the next World Cup, massive centre Robbie Freuan who has the physical dimensions of Sharks flank Willem Alberts but with a turbo boost to boot.

Next to him is the celebrated heavyweight boxer Sonny Bill Williams, the 110kg former Rugby League star. With Freuan, that amounts to around 215kgs in the midfield. For the Crusaders, long gone are the days of deft, nubile artists at centre. They don’t need them. After the high-speed midfield tanks do their work, in come the fleet-footed cavalry in Sean Maitland, Zac Guildford and the beautifully named Israel Dagg.

That backline is served by a pack of mongrels that does not have the big names of the backline, especially with All Blacks captain Richie McCaw still injured.

“We have some good, grafting, hard-working boys,” Blackadder said of his forwards, who are led by the no-nonsense Kieran Read. “They are all trustworthy and unafraid of putting in the hard yards.”

The same can generally be said of the Sharks, although the Sharks pack suffered an uncharacteristic reverse against the Chiefs in week three of the Sharks’ tour. Until that match the Sharks’ forwards had reigned supreme in an unbeaten four-match run.

“We were poor, we are very disappointed in that forward performance,” coach John Plumtree said.
“We were not up to it in the collisions and were outmuscled at the breakdowns. And these are the areas in which we need to excel if we are to negate the Crusaders’ game.

“We know what we have to do, we are very excited about this challenge. Bring it on!”

Referee: Steve Walsh (NZ)

Crusaders – 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (c), 7 Matt Todd, 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 Chris Jack, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Kahn Fotuali’i, 21 Matt Berquist, 22 Adam Whitelock.

Sharks – 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9. Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Willem Alberts, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Alistair Hargreaves, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 John Smit (c).

Subs: 16 Eugene van Staden, 17 Tendai Mtawarira, 18 Gehard Mostert, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Conrad Hoffmann, 21 Adrian Jacobs, 22 JP Pietersen.

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About Martin Myers
Music Supervisor / Artist and Talent Manager / Publicist / Music Exchange Founder / Owner Triple M Entertainment

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