S15 preview - Blues v Crusaders

2014-03-03 11:47
Blues v Crusaders (Gallo Images)

Super Rugby - Week 3

2014-03-03 09:31

See all the best pics from week 3 of Super Rugby action.

Almost exactly a year ago the Blues hosted the Crusaders at Eden Park for the first match of Round 3. The result was not a flattering one for the men from Canterbury as the Aucklanders logged a full house and sent the visitors home with their tails between their legs. Only difference now is that it’s not the Saders first game of the season and they’re hurting over the error riddled loss to the Chiefs last weekend. The Blues, however, also ticked the L box against last year’s wooden spoon holders as they left Dunedin empty-handed.
Luke Braid

Luke Braid

I wouldn’t go as far as calling the Blues one of the smaller unions, considering that they’ve held the title three times already, but they haven’t fared well over the last decade, especially not the past two season. After only one loss, Sir JK has done a shake and shuffle with his team, mostly as a result of injuries, but also I an attempt to mix it up and create internal competition. In doing so he’s axed Chris Noakes and thrown young ITM Payer of the Year Simon Hickey into the deep end. Hopefully the faith shown in the playmaker pays off. Apparently Francis Saili has broken his foot which sees George Moala move from wing to outside centre and Jackson Willison inside him.

At the time of team announcement a big question mark was still hanging over the availability of industrious captain Luke Braid who’s hurt his ankle. In my opinion his absence could swing the result, so fingers crossed. I could find no fault with the forwards’ performance against the Highlanders and should they be able to repeat that with or without their first choice leader, the battle will be on. The backline should improve on their finishing touches and avoid letting opportunities slip away.

Todd Blackadder also rung the changes ahead of their trip to Auckland, but his reasons are a little less clear to me. It was no surprise to see Tyler Bleyendaal get booted from the match day 23 after his woeful start against the Chiefs and as expected Tom Taylor will wear the 10, but I cannot see why Israel Dagg has been benched in order to make place for Colin Slade at fullback. Maybe the white-haired coach knows something we don’t. Much talked about Johnny McNicholl was also unceremoniously dumped to afford Rob Thompson his debut on the wing. The inexperience among their backs should even the playing field quite a bit.
Kieran Read

Kieran Read

On the upside, IRB Player of the Year Kieran Read makes his return. He needs no introduction as we are all well aware of his top-notch work ethic and ability to be in the right place at the right time. He will also take over the captaincy from Richie McCaw and you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll lead from the front. Apart from Tim Perry, the entire Crusaders pack have international experience and then some on the bench. They should be able to win the set pieces, but I’m afraid they’re inexperienced backline might get exposed.

The biggest differential to me, is Luke Braid. Should he take to the field, the Blues will have a realistic shot. Should he not, I think the Crusaders might have the upper hand up front. That could result in a lack of possession for the home side and I fancy them cashing in out wide.

I’m gonna stick with the hosts, but it’s gonna be close either way.

Blues by 4

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