Walking wounded

The Crusaders were left battered and bruised on Saturday against a rousing Hurricanes outfit. It was an examination that would leave most coaches grasping for their team handbook, fortunately for Scott Robertson, the Crusaders are a team renowned for turning things around and they will be desperate to do just that.

History suggests that matches under the roof in Dunedin are high tempo, high scoring affairs and everything points to the same on Saturday. There is a sense however that if the injury-hit Crusaders try to play the Highlanders at their own game, they will soon find themselves chasing their tails. Instead, the Crusaders need to play to their strengths and turn the contest into an old-fashioned dog fight, a tactic that nearly won them the match in Wellington. They need to blunt the usual suspects of Aaron & Ben Smith and win the contest at the breakdown. If they can do those two consistently and take all opportunities on offer, then they will go close.

Super Rugby - Round 14.
Ben Smith makes a break to score a try. 2017 Waratahs v Highlanders. Super Rugby trial match played at Lottoland (Brookvale Oval) Sydney NSW. Thursday 16 February 2017. Photo Clay Cross / photosport.nz

On a high

The Highlanders are undefeated to start the season and they will be itching to continue their early dominance on home soil. The Otago based outfit will be yearning to put things right after they lost all three derbies against the Crusaders in 2017. Winning matches against conference rivals has proven to be influential in the overall makeup of the playoffs and nothing changes in that respect.

Recently described as a pack of wolves, the Highlander forwards will be out to claw at everything in red. If they can negate a grumpy Crusaders pack and dominate key match-ups then the Highlanders should find themselves on the right side of the ledger.

Player to watch: Dillon Hunt

The rise of Dillon Hunt was one of the feel-good stories of 2017 and so far he has maintained that form throughout the early stages of 2018. You only have to look at how the new law variations at the breakdown have affected the flow of recent matches to understand how influential a player like Hunt will be. If he can win his match up with Matt Todd and snaffle the pill on more than one occasion, then Aaron Mauger’s men will feel confident of getting the job done.

Memory Lane

Prediction

My Pick: The Crusaders still have too much cattle missing for them to get over the line here. They will be in the fight until the 70-minute mark before their lack of depth in key positions will take its toll.

The Highlanders are due a win over their arch-rivals which will spurn them into a frenzy of all-out attack. I predict the Highlanders pulling away and winning this one by two scores. Highlanders by 10.

Author: Simon van Ryn

I am a sports mad fanatic who loves watching drama filled code. Growing up in Wellington I have been fortunate enough to witness some great sporting moments at the Cake Tin – non more satisfying than seeing my beloved Hurricanes finally lift that trophy after 21 years of hurt.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I’m a Chiefs fan, but the Southern Classic is my favourite fixture. What a brilliant pair of games last year.

    I’m with you, the injuries will make it tough for the Saders. They are very resilient though, so hopefully this will be another cracker!

    • As predicted the Crusaders put up a fight but ultimately the Highlanders got there in the end. I thought the Crusaders ball playing ability was scratchy and their set piece didn’t have that usual hard edge about it to put any real pressure on the Highlanders pack. Credit to the Highlanders though, they took all their chances and the likes of Lima Sopoaga and Elliot Dixon made sure their lead stayed firm.

      Bring on next Saturday with another Kiwi derby at the Cake Tin. Liam Squire will be a big loss for them against a physical Canes outfit but the Highlanders will head up to Wellington unbeaten and full of confidence.

      You will be happy with that Chiefs result? The Bulls came out of the blocks looking like a champion side but the Chiefs showed some real grit to get back into that game, something that I believe will take them along way this season. Brodie Rettalick also showed why he is now regarded as arguably the best lock NZ’s ever produced.

      • The best thing for me was how Brodie and the other All Black forwards- Cane Messam and Harris – really stood up when we were struggling and all had big moments. Brodie’s physical and mental strength, plus his subtle skills, is one heck of a package.

        Good to see Dixon excel in a position where we have lost Kaino, Sheilds and Luatua. He didn’t have a great year in the All Blacks but hopefully he’s learned.

        The Crusaders are still favourites for me. They had a lot of experience missing but still ran a very good team close.

  2. Brodie Rettalick was outstanding and really showed his leadership after a tough start. When you compare a team like the Chiefs with a team like the bumbling Blues, a big reason why they get results is because their All Blacks know when to put the pressure on. Champion sides know how to tough it out when they are lacking resources which is a great sign moving forward for the Chiefs.

    I somewhat agree that the Crusaders will be hard to stop when their All Blacks return but I think the favouritism tag falls on the team that wins in Wellington on Saturday. That assumption is made purely on how close the conference has been over the last few years and how home advantage through the playoffs can really boost your chances of winning the overall title. If the Highlanders go 4-0 they will open up a buffer that will give them huge confidence moving forward. If they can remain relativity injury free aswell then it could be their year. If the Hurricanes themselves take the win then they will have to be favourites considering they have already done the trip to South Africa / Argentina and they still have the likes of Dane Coles and Milner Skudder to call on as the season progresses.

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