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These teams share nine Super Rugby titles between them – although seven are held by the Crusaders – and there is plenty of buzz already around the prospects of the Crusaders this season as they go in search of an eighth trophy.
Despite reaching two finals in 2011 and 2014 it is now eight years since the Crusaders last lifted the trophy, and now Richie McCaw, Dan Carter and the rest of the greats are long gone.
The optimism about their prospects in 2017 however is well deserved. Scott Robertson is the new man in charge as he takes over from Todd Blackadder, now in charge of Bath in England, and a combination of promising signs from last year and some interesting new additions are starting to get people excited.
Of course there is a cavernous hole out on the wing following the departure of Nemani Nadolo, who was consistently brilliant for the Crusaders during his time in Christchurch, but the Crusaders have turned to youth and the signing of Seta Tamanivalu from the Chiefs and emergence of George Bridge and Jack Goodhue are both major positives.
Truthfully there are class acts throughout this Crusaders group, from Israel Dagg and Ryan Crotty to the ever-improving Scott Barrett and Jordan Taufua in the pack. Richie Mo’unga comfortably won the fly-half battle with Ben Volavola last year and is now expected to kick on.
Are the Brumbies the team to burst the Crusaders’ pre-season bubble? Canberra’s finest feel in a state of transition after making the final in 2013 and not having missed the play-offs in the last four seasons.
After the high standard set by Matt Toomua and Christian Lealiifano in recent years new fly-half Wharenui Hawera is under pressure, as is his half-back partner Joe Powell following Tomás Cubelli’s long-term injury.
That lack of experience feels like a bear trap for the Brumbies before the season has even started but there are a number of top talents still in the heart of the Brumbies’ pack, namely Scott Fardy and Sam Carter along with new Wallabies Allan Alaalatoa and Rory Arnold.
If the Brumbies are to win tough fixtures such as Saturday’s however, then they need the best out of Tevita Kuridrani and Henry Speight on a consistent basis.
What doesn’t bode well is that the Brumbies have lost each of their last six games in New Zealand, last winning there in Round 4, 2014 against the Hurricanes.
The last time these teams met: There was always going to be one winner when these two teams met last season, with the Crusaders running six tries past the Brumbies in a 40-14 victory in Canberra. Nemani Nadolo, Jone Macilai, Israel Dagg, Codie Taylor (2) and Marty McKenzie all scored for the Kiwi franchise as the Crusaders took a commanding 26-7 lead into the half-time break and never looked back.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Codie Taylor, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Ereatari Enari, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 David Havili
Brumbies: 15 Aidan Toua, 14 Henry Speight, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 James Dargaville, 10 Wharenui Hawera, 9 Joe Powell, 8 Jordan Smiler, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Scott Fardy, 5 Sam Carter, 4 Rory Arnold, 3 Allan Alaalatoa, 2 Josh Mann-Rea, 1 Nic Mayhew
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Ben Alexander, 18 Leslie Leulua’Iali’I-Makin, 19 Tom Staniforth, 20 Lolo Fakaosilea, 21 Dewet Roos, 22 Andrew Smith, 23 Isaac Thompson