Super Rugby: Crusaders Mission Not Impossible For Confident Reds

Reds celebrate title

Ben Daley & James Horwill celebrate the 2011 Super Rugby title with the Reds faithful after defeating the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium

by Paul Cook –

Most sides travelling to Christchurch to take on the might of the Crusaders in a do-or-die finals match, may well be wary of the odds heavily stacked against their chances of success. In 14 previous finals deciders on home soil since Super Rugby’s inception back in 1996, the Cantabrians have proved invincible, triumphing in all 14 with an average winning margin of just over 16pts. However, the Queensland Reds, their opponents in this evening’s Qualifying Final, come into the game on the back of three wins from the last four against their cross-ditch rivals since 2009, including the 2011 Super Rugby final triumph.

Admittedly, that was in the cauldron of Suncorp Stadium, with 50,000 screaming Queenslanders making an extra man, and while the other two wins in that time have also been with the fillip of home advantage (their only loss was in Christchurch last season), coach Ewen McKenzie sees no reason for pessimism as they look to progress to week two of the 2013 series.

“We’ve probably had as good a record against them as anyone in recent times,” he said this week. “But they’re pretty had to beat there at home so it makes for a pretty interesting challenge for us. We’ve found a way in the past so we’ll go there with some confidence but, in the end, I’m sure we’ll go there and no-one will tip us. That’s ok, we’ll take that, no-one tipped us the last three times we beat the Chiefs either.”

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has reason for optimism - Photo: seiserphotography.com.au

Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has reason for optimism – Photo: seiserphotography.com.au

The Reds record against New Zealand sides is favourable this season, with four wins from four maintaining McKenzie’s upper hand over teams from the ‘land of the long white cloud’ in recent years – a major factor in his appointment as Wallaby coach. However, despite the positive results, he remains pragmatic about the success rate.

“That’s the statistic but in the end, there were some pretty tight games in there,” he points out, “we had to defend a lot against the Hurricanes and the Blues and hang in there grimly for ten or fifteen minutes.”

He will admit to being pleased with the way the Reds defence has performed in those games and beyond. “I’ve always been a believer that to be effective in the finals, you’ve got to have good attack and defence so you’ll score the tries if you can get them but you’ve got to stop the other team too. We’ve been pretty successful at that across the whole season so we’ve got enough tools there to be able to win a game if we get it right.”

While the talismanic Richie McCaw makes his return to top flight rugby off the bench for the Crusaders after his seven month sabbatical to ‘recharge the batteries’, the Reds too welcome back their own figureheads in captain James Horwill and vice-captain Will Genia, from injury and McKenzie will be expecting them to provide a significant boost to a side that got the job done against the Waratahs last Saturday but were solid, if unspectacular, in the 16-12 victory.

Quade Cooper’s showdown with Dan Carter is sure to be scrutinised by all and sundry on both sides of the Tasman, with an eye towards next month’s opening Bledisloe Cup match in Sydney and despite his obvious interest in that particular clash on two levels, McKenzie preferred to play down the individual battles that will go a long way towards deciding the outcome.

“I think the media gets excited about the head-to-heads and I’m sure the players do too, somewhere in their mind, but we’re a hundred percent focused on how we want to play the game. They’ve [Crusaders] found their form, they’ve made a few adjustments to how they play during the break and they’re doing a few little things differently. It’s a significant challenge.”

While the Crusaders’ talents with ball in hand and their ability to punish teams on the counter attack is seemingly a part of their genetic make-up, the groundwork done by a talented and hardworking set of forwards often goes unnoticed. Reds and Wallaby prop James Slipper, sees the battle up front as being vital to Queensland’s chances but thinks his side has the smarts to claim victory.

“Their pack is second to none – there are a lot of All Blacks in there, their front row is very powerful and their set-piece is very strong so if we’re going to put any sort of pressure on them, that’s where to start,” he says.

“Every time we go over there, it’s always a tough game but our record speaks for itself and that’s credit to our coaching staff and the players that we have at the Reds, we come up with a game plan that we think deems fit to win the game for us and we abide by it. You’ve got to back yourselves, especially at this time of year. Our record does speak for itself but it’s always a tight game over there and it’s a healthy history so it’s going to be a tough match.”

Crusaders: 1. Wyatt Crockett; 2. Corey Flynn; 3. Owen Franks; 4. Luke Romano; 5. Sam Whitelock; 6. George Whitelock; 7. Matt Todd; 8. Kieran Read; 9. Andy Ellis; 10. Daniel Carter; 11. Zac Guildford; 12. Tom Taylor; 13. Ryan Crotty; 14. Tom Marshall; 15. Israel Dagg Reserves: Ben Funnell; Joe Moody; Luke Whitelock; Richie McCaw; Willi Heinz; Tyler Bleyendaal; Adam Whitelock

Queensland Reds: 1. Greg Holmes; 2. Saia Faingaa; 3. James Slipper; 4. Rob Simmons; 5. James Horwill; 6. Ed Quirk; 7. Liam Gill; 8. Jake Schatz; 9. Will Genia; 10. Quade Cooper; 11. Dom Shipperley; 12. Jono Lance; 13. Ben Tapuai; 14. Chris Feauai-Sautia; 15. Ben Lucas Reserves: Albert Anae; Jono Owen; Ed O’Donoghue; Radike Samo; Beau Robinson; Nick Frisby; Luke Morahan