Super 14 - Game of the Week
Waratahs to face tough Crusaders test
April 8, 2010
The Waratahs are confident of having captain Phil Waugh back © Getty Images
A string of upsets allowed the Waratahs to shoot to the top of the Super 14 table last weekend but they face their sternest test of the season on Saturday when they visit Christchurch to face the Crusaders.
The Crusaders, led by points machine Dan Carter, are on a five-match unbeaten run after their draw with the Hurricanes last week, and with six rounds left look a strong proposition to finish in the top four this season.
The Waratahs, meanwhile, capitalised on Carter's missed conversion at the end of that match and the Bulls' first loss of the season to edge into top spot on points difference with an easy win over the Cheetahs.
The New South Wales outfit turned a corner with their thrashing of the Lions in the second of their five straight wins, a run that has seen them become the competition's top try-scorers.
But AMI Stadium has never proved a happy hunting ground for the Waratahs, and they will be desperate to welcome back Phil Waugh - should the flanker pass a late fitness test as expected - to take on All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw in one of Super Rugby's best individual rivalries.
The Crusaders have two changes after their failure to beat the Hurricanes, one of them enforced with Kahn Fotuali'i coming in for concussion-victim Andy Ellis in what has been a constant rotation in the No.9 jersey. Chris Jack has been injected into the second row at Sam Whitelock's expense for a starting debut since his return to New Zealand.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder had kind words for the Waratahs in the Australian press this week, saying they deserve to be in top position and applauding their mental strength this season.
He said of his own team: "We will be looking to improve on last week's effort against the Hurricanes and try to exert pressure whenever possible. Chris Jack has earned his start with his experience and work ethic. In saying that, Sam Whitelock has been excellent for us all season.
"It's a real shame that Andy has been ruled out but Kahn has taken his opportunities well and I'm sure he'll do so again on Saturday night. We have enjoyed some good crowds at AMI Stadium this season and we hope for the biggest yet against a team at the top of the points table. We'll need all the support we can get."
Kieran Read and possibly replacement Thomas Waldrom will make their 50th appearances for the Crusaders and in Super Rugby respectively on Saturday, while Carter is closing in on Stirling Mortlock's all-time Super Rugby point-scoring record, although that record is not set in stone given Mortlock's continued participation in the competition.
For the Waratahs, Wycliff Palu is a step ahead of Waugh in the recovery process after being cleared to play at No.8, while his fill-in from last week, Ben Mowen, stays in the back-row at the expense of blindside Dave Dennis. If Waugh fails to make it, his impressive debutant replacement Chris Alcock will retain his place.
Coach Chris Hickey was delighted with the level of depth building in his squad.
Hickey said: "Cliffy's good to go which is great news, and we're really confident with Phil as well. Phil's injury is one which is hard to play through so we need to be assured he'll be ok to take the field before we finalise the team. At this stage though, we're pretty sure that will be the case.
"We have no hesitation whatsoever in taking Chris [Alcock] with us to Christchurch and it's certainly a great reward for his match last week.
"Both Benny and Dave have been playing well and there's not much between them at all," said Hickey. "Ben made the most of his opportunity to start last week when Cliffy was out injured and deserves another chance in the starting side and we know Dave Dennis will provide plenty of punch from the bench."
Crusaders: Colin Slade; Sean Maitland, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford; Daniel Carter, Kahn Fotuali'i; Wyatt Crockett, Ti'i Paulo, Owen Franks, Chris Jack, Brad Thorn, Richie McCaw (capt), George Whitelock, Kieran Read
Replacements: Daniel Perrin, Ben Franks, Sam Whitelock, Thomas Waldrom, Willi Heinz, Adam Whitelock, Jared Payne.
Waratahs: Kurtley Beale; Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Berrick Barnes, Drew Mitchell; Daniel Halangahu, Luke Burgess; Benn Robinson, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Al Baxter, Dean Mumm, Kane Douglas, Ben Mowen, Phil Waugh (capt) / Chris Alcock, Wycliff Palu
Replacements: Damien Fitzpatrick, Sekope Kepu, Will Caldwell, Dave Dennis, Josh Holmes, Tom Carter, Sosene Anesi