Emotional Crusaders to test Tahs
NSW are out to prove they’re worthy title favourites when they tackle Super Rugby’s most successful side the Crusaders tonight in Nelson.
The Waratahs are dominating the Australian Conference and lead the Super competition overall after two rounds.
In thrashing Melbourne and Queensland in their first two matches, the ’ Tahs didn’t concede a single try, but they realise they have a point to prove against the Crusaders.
While the seven-time Super champions have been forced away from their home in Christchurch, their makeshift home at Trafalgar Park in Nelson will be bursting with emotion.
The Crusaders didn’t play last week’s scheduled match against the Hurricanes as a mark of respect for the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, and this is their first chance to honour the people they represent.
While rugby is insignificant in the scheme of all the devastation, players realise tonight’s match is the 80-minute release the people of Christchurch have been looking for.
The Waratahs’ record against the Canterbury side isn’t pretty anyway, and Chris Hickey’s men know the task is going to be even tougher this week given the circumstances.
‘‘ Playing the Crusaders any week is tough but early on it’s going to be very hard with their emotion running high,’’ prop Al Baxter said.
‘‘( Emotion) will probably get them through the first 20-30 minutes but after that you get into the game.
‘‘ I’m pretty sure it’ll get back into the normal rhythm.’’
But by normal rhythm, Baxter means what’s normal for the Crusaders. Although they lost their o p e n i n g c l a s h w i t h t h e Highlanders, the Crusaders are again one of the teams to beat – and NSW will need to rise to the physical challenge.
Forward Dave Dennis said the ’ Tahs would need to improve at the set-piece to challenge an All Black-dominated forward pack.
‘‘ We have to take a step up there, particularly at the scrum, they’ve got an All Blacks front row, so definitely our physicality around the park will need to improve,’’ Dennis said.
‘‘ Against the Rebels and Reds we’ve won the tackle contest and really done well to get momentum to get over the advantage line so the backs have got that clean ball.’’ Getting NSW on the front foot will be even more important with flyhalf Daniel Halangahu coming in for his first starting appearance of the season in place of the injured Berrick Barnes.