Crusaders v Force preview

Jade Stadium, Christchurch, 19.35 (07.35 GMT)

The Western Force have made remarkable progress. From last in their debut year to being among the play-off contenders in year two.

Yet, there are still some doubters … those who feel the bubble will burst soon.

What better place than Jade Stadium against the tournament’s most successful team to put to rest all those negative slants.

Western Force coach John Mitchell readily acknowledges the six-time champion Crusaders as the “benchmark” of Super Rugby and feels that beating them on their own turf would ensure the Force are taken serious as competition contenders.

“The Crusaders are a wonderfully talented and well-coached team, and they have an outstanding record of 24 consecutive wins at home, with only four Aussie teams having beaten them in Christchurch in 12 years,” Mitchell said.

“The Crusaders have set the standard and we must take steps forward to meet that standard,” he said.

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans certainly thinks this Force outfit is the real deal.

He said it is because they, the Force, play as a unit rather than relying on individual brilliance that they have been so successful.

In fact, according to Deans, the Crusaders will have to take an enormous step up from their encounter with the Waratahs last week – a fortuitous 34-33 win – in they hope to keep that proud home record in tact.

“For starters, we will need to play a lot better as a collective unit than we did last weekend in Sydney,” Deans said.

“We were able to get by the Waratahs largely because our execution in possession was good.

“It was what we did – or didn’t more to the point – do off the ball, and on defence, that let us down.

“Those were shortcomings of that performance that we have considered as a group through our preparation this week.

“The upcoming game will be a significant test for us and we are very aware that our previous standards and levels of performance will be inadequate if we are to be competitive in this contest.”

Most coaches will talk up the opposition. However, Deans is probably very close to the mark in his assessment of the Western Force.

Prediction: It will be tight and the Western Force will be competitive. However, we feel the Crusaders’ real class will come through and they will win … not by much, but by enough. The Crusaders by between 10 and 15 points.

Teams:

Crusaders: 15 Leon MacDonald, 14 Rico Gear, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Aaron Mauger, 11 Caleb Ralph, 10 Daniel Carter, 9 Andrew Ellis, 8 Mose Tuiali’i, 7 Richard McCaw (c), 6 Reuben Thorne, 5 Michael Paterson, 4 Ross Filipo, 3 Campbell Johnstone, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Replacements: 16 Ti’i Paulo, 17 Ben Franks, 18 Kieran Read, 19 Johnny Leo’o, 20 Kevin Senio, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Scott Hamilton

Western Force: 15 Drew Mitchell, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Matt Giteau, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 James Hilgendorf, 9 Chris O’Young, 8 Scott Fava, 7 David Pocock, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Rudi Vedelago, 3 Troy Takiari, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Gareth Hardy.
Replacements: 16 Brendan Cannon, 17 AJ Whalley, 18 Luke Doherty, 19 Matt Hodgson, 20 Jon McGrath, 21 Junior Pelesasa, 22 Haig Sare

Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Touch judges: Deon van Blommestein, Kelvin Deaker (New Zealand)
Television match official: Josh Noonan (New Zealand)
Assessor: Kim Eichmann (New Zealand), Brendan McCormick (Australia)

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