Crusaders host Brumbies in 'quarter-final'
May 12, 2010
Julian Huxley returns at fullback for the Brumbies after a hamstring complaint © Getty Images
Brumbies head coach Andy Friend has summed up what's at stake when his side visit the Crusaders in Christchurch by labelling the clash a Super 14 "quarter-final", the perfect description for our final Game of the Week this season.
It matters little that the Brumbies sit in fourth ahead of the Crusaders in sixth going into the match because, with the Waratahs and Hurricanes also facing off this week, the winner of this match will secure a top-four berth and the loser will see their season end.
The Crusaders will be thankful their destiny remains in their own hands after three consecutive losses on a nightmare tour derailed a campaign that saw them sitting first prior to that decline. A surprise loss to the Force in Perth was followed by defeats at the top-two Stormers and Bulls in South Africa, although the contentious nature of their five point reverse in Pretoria last week should at least give them confidence they can match it with the competition's benchmark should they reach the finals.
Their ability to recover from a short turnaround after a taxing African sojourn will be critical, although their hopes should be boosted by their strong record in front of their own fans and the fact that three of the Brumbies' four losses this season have come away from their Canberra fortress.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder insists back-up scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i's breach of team protocol, which has seen him stood down from the bench for Willi Heinz, will not break his squad's concentration ahead of the must-win clash.
"It's an unfortunate thing to happen at this time of the season but we're not going to let it distract us," Blackadder said this week. "We're going to focus solely on our very important match against the Brumbies on Friday night. Kahn regrets the breach and will be doing his best to help prepare the team to win on Friday."
In other changes, Owen Franks replaces Wyatt Crockett at prop and Sam Whitelock comes in for Chris Jack at lock. Owen joins sibling Ben Franks in a front row that has been on constant rotation from match to match, while Sam joins flanker George Whitelock in a very brotherly pack.
Blackadder said the selections were down to performance: "Both (Franks and Whitelock) played very well in the match against the Bulls last weekend and we felt that they deserved to start in this match. It's great that we are playing the Brumbies, who I'm sure will look to play an open, attacking, game. It's winner takes all and we're all looking forward to it. We took a lot from that match against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld and are excited about getting back to AMI Stadium and playing in front of our home crowd."
The Brumbies started the season as the highest-rated Australian franchise, seen as something of an all-star team with the number of Wallabies jumping off their team sheet. But they've been relegated to the shadows by the flashy Reds and, at times, the Waratahs while they have chipped away without ever hitting the heights expected of them.
The cream has slowly risen to the top though and success here with a Waratahs loss in Sydney would see them take their place as the sole Australian representative in the play-offs. Only six teams have scored less tries than the Brumbies, who rely on prop Ben Alexander to cross more than any back, but their solid defence and experience in key positions has brought them within touching distance of the last ever finals in the current format.
Friend said the Brumbies had already adopted finals mentality for the clash: "This is a big game for both sides and is effectively a quarter final with the loser finishing up for 2010. In terms of challenges, they don't come much bigger than tackling the Crusaders in Christchurch but it's the job we have to get done if we're going to stay in this competition.
"Our performances have been building over the past few matches and we've put ourselves in a good position for the weekend. We were strong against the Reds and continued that against an in-form Highlanders side last week, and now we need to find the next gear in Christchurch." The Brumbies have just the one change from the side that dominated the Highlanders last week, with miracle man Julian Huxley returning from a hamstring injury to resume at fullback, pushing Mr Versatile Adam Ashley-Cooper out to the wing and Andrew Smith onto the bench. Stirling Mortlock's season and Brumbies career is over after he has failed to recover from a bulging disc in his back.
Friend hailed Huxley's inclusion: "We'll also bring Julian back which is a real positive for the side. Adam's been very impressive for us at fullback this season but in terms of the overall balance of the backline, it was believed this was our best option. Julian brings a great deal of experience to side and has a excellent kicking game which could be of benefit in what's forecast to be wet conditions on Friday night."
Crusaders captain Richie McCaw will receive a special presentation for reaching 100 Super Rugby caps, a feat he achieved against the Stormers two games ago.
Crusaders: Colin Slade, Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Daniel Bowden, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (captain), George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Brad Thorn, Ben Franks, Ti'i Paulo, Owen Franks
Replacements: Daniel Perrin, Wyatt Crockett, Chris Jack, Thomas Waldrom, Willi Heinz, Tim Bateman, Jared Payne.
Brumbies: Julian Huxley, Pat McCabe, Tyrone Smith, Matt Giteau, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Matt Toomua, Josh Valentine, Stephen Hoiles (captain), George Smith, Rocky Elsom, Mark Chisholm, Mitchell Chapman, Salesi Ma'afu, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander
Replacements: Huia Edmonds, Jerry Yanuyanutawa, Ben Hand, Colby Faingaa, Patrick Phibbs, Brackin Karauria-Henry, Andrew Smith
The reopening of the openside debate, a dominant wolf-pack and a sublime performance in defeat - Monday Maul looks at the weekend's talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Rugby Championship alongside the best photographs from around the domestic game
Amy Perrett, the Australian referee who whistled the Women's Rugby World Cup final after handling only six Tests, talks to Jamie Lyall
John Griffiths digs into the distant past to try to establish the identity of an England international whose life is a virtual mystery