Reds v Crusaders, Super Rugby Final, Brisbane, July 9
Reds and Crusaders eye Super Rugby glory
July 8, 2011
Reds captain James Horwill and Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw pose with the Super Rugby silverware © Getty Images
The Reds and Crusaders will go head-to-head for the 2011 Super Rugby crown at the Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane on Saturday night.
The Reds grace the season finale for the first time in the professional era - having claimed the Super 10 crown in their previous incarnation as Queensland in 1994 and 1995 - while the Crusaders are on familiar ground with nine previous final appearances and seven titles in the bank.
The Crusaders have racked up an incredible 100,000km during an epic season played entirely on the road after their AMI Stadium home was damaged by the earthquake that devastated Christchurch back in February. The Reds have also had to weather nature's nasty side with January's floods and Cyclone Yasi wreaking havoc across the region that will play host to Saturday night's encounter.
Perhaps inspired by that emotional hardship, there is little doubt that this clash throws together the two best sides in the competition, and the most prolific in terms of points, while their combined tally of 100 tries this season hints that the sell-out 52,000 crowd are in for a treat.
The Reds edged out their Kiwi rivals 17-16 in dramatic circumstances earlier in the season and the stage is set for another thrilling encounter this time around.
Reds - Player to Watch: Fly-half Quade Cooper was in sensational form last weekend and his game-changing and crowd-pleasing skills will no doubt be on show again. But how will he respond the pressure of the occasion and a ball-hungry Crusaders pack?
Reds - Team News: The Reds name an unchanged side for the first time since their regular season victory over the Crusaders in May. The only change considered to the line-up which defeated the Blues hinged on the potential return of Luke Morahan, but the winger has fallen short of overcoming a torn hamstring. As a result, the inform Cooper and scrum-half Will Genia will provide the spark at halfback while winger Rod Davies gets a chance to add to his historic hat-trick last weekend. Lock James Horwill will once again lead the side while Radike Samo has recovered from a neck injury and will pack down at No.8
Crusaders - Player to Watch: Crusaders fly-half Dan Carter is sure to relish what could be the first of many match-ups this year with his Reds counterpart Cooper. He may not have the dancing feet of his Wallabies rival but he is not short of class and is used to delivering on the big stage.
Crusaders - Team News: The Crusaders also opt for the same again after scrum-half Andy Ellis came through a fitness test on Thursday. Reserve lock Luke Romano has also recovered from chickenpox to take his place on the bench. Wing Sean Maitland, the competition's joint leading try scorer, was also confirmed in the back three after being rested from training in order to nurse a foot injury.
Key Battle: Both these sides will want to play with the likes of Crusaders centre Sonny Bill Williams and Reds winger Rod Davies poised to run riot, but they will not be able to do that without the ball - cue a bruising battle for possession. The Crusaders' pack - including a powerful front row triumvirate of Owen Franks, Corey Flynn and Wyatt Crockett - were in hope-crushing form last time out while the Reds' second row duo of Rob Simmons and skipper Horwill will no doubt have a say in proceedings.
Trivia: Only one side has managed to win the Super Rugby Final as the visiting team - the Crusaders - and they have done it three times. They edged out the Blues at Eden Park in 1998, the Highlanders at Carisbrook in 1999 and the Brumbies at Canberra Stadium in 2000.
Stats: These two sides have met 17 times in Super Rugby history with the Crusaders claiming 12 victories to the Reds' five. The Crusaders also hold the advantage in Brisbane where they have won on six of their previous 10 visits.
""I find it disappointing we're not favourites going into this game." - Reds coach Ewen McKenzie takes umbrage at the fact the bookies have the Crusaders as favourites.
"We know Bryce well enough to know what he won't stand for, so we have to be really clinical." - Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder hopes referee Bryce Lawrence has a quiet day at the office.
Prediction: There may well be a wealth of game-breaking talent on display but defence will be key to this clash. The Crusaders appear to hold the trump cards on that front and as long as they can weather the last leg of a gruelling travel schedule, and a success-starved Reds side, then yet another Super Rugby title will be on its ways back to Christchurch.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.