PREVIEW: Waratahs v Crusaders

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Friday, March 31, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

The Crusaders have a healthy dominance in this rivalry having won 17 of the 23 games played and they won last year's encounter, in Christchurch, 29-10. The Crusaders also rank as the toughest side in the Investec Super Rugby competition for the Waratahs to beat. Coming into the game the Crusaders have an unbeaten run of five games with the Brumbies (17-13), the Reds (22-20) and the Force (45-17) already on their belt with the other wins being over the Highlanders (30-27) and the Blues (33-24), both of the New Zealand successes on the back of significant comebacks. The Waratahs have won only two from five, the Force (19-13) and the Rebels (32-25) in their last outing. The Crusaders are their first New Zealand opponents for the year.

Some teams don't get too carried away about their past, but the Crusaders aren't like that. Events from years gone by are wrapped in the legacy that has made the Crusaders such a competitive franchise in Super Rugby and the impact the 2015 game with the Waratahs made on the side won't have been forgotten. It was a bruising encounter which played out later in the judicial room when the damage on the scoreboard had already been done, in the Waratahs favour. Those memories will ensure that the old Carwyn James line might be applied, 'to get your retaliation in first', or to at least be on guard for some skulduggery. Coach Scott Robertson was aware of what happened and there had been attention paid at training to help ensure the side retained their cool under provocation.

They don't come much harder than playing a Crusaders team at the top of the points table when you are making your debut. But that is Mack Mason's lot for the Waratahs. Not that he lacks form or experience. He has had time with the Melbourne Storm in the NRL and also had time with Australia's Under-20s who beat New Zealand in 2016. He's filling in for Bernard Foley at first five-eighths as a result of the international having on-going concussion issues. Coach Daryl Gibson has faith in his ability describing him as 'cool-headed'. In other changes to their side, Israel Folau has returned to centre due to Rob Horne suffering a hamstring injury while Cam Clark, a member of Australia's Sevens team in Rio de Janiero's Olympic Games last year coming in to fullback.


Waratahs: 1.Tom Robertson, 2.Tolu Latu, 3.Sekope Kepu, 4.Dean Mumm, 5.Will Skelton, 6.Ned Hanigan, 7.Michael Hooper (captain), 8.Jed Holloway, 9.Jake Gordon, 10.Mack Mason, 11.Andrew Kellaway, 12.David Horwitz, 13.Israel Folau, 14.Reece Robinson, 15.Cam Clark.

Substitutes: 16.Damien Fitzpatrick, 17.Paddy Ryan, 18.David Lolohea, 19.David McDuling, 20.Michael Wells, 21.Nick Phipps, 22.Irae Simone, 23.Taqele Naiyaravoro.

Crusaders: 1.Joe Moody, 2.Codie Taylor, 3.Owen Franks, 4.Scott Barrett, 5.Sam Whitelock (captain), 6.Jordan Taufua, 7.Matt Todd, 8.Whetu Douglas, 9.Mitchell Drummond, 10.Mitchell Hunt, 11.George Bridge, 12.Ryan Crotty, 13.Tim Bateman, 14.Digby Ioane, 15.David Havili.

Substitutes: 16.Ben Funnell, 17.Wyatt Crocket, 18.Michael Alaalatoa, 19.Luke Romano, 20.Pete Samu, 21.Bryn Hall, 22.Marty McKenzie, 23.Manasa Mataele.