4.05pm (AEST), Sunday, April 24 at GIO Stadium, Canberra
The Brumbies pulled off a brave victory in Sydney last week with their spiritual leader on the sidelines, but can the Pocock-less Canberra outfit topple an in-form Kiwi heavyweight back at home on Sunday afternoon.
Jarrad Butler moved into the No.7 for the Brumbies last week with David Pocock out suspended and Ita Vaea announcing his injury-enforced retirement, while Jordan Smiler was elevated to the No.8 spot.
Israel Dagg made a triumphant return from injury at fullback, scoring two tries in his first appearance of 2016 in the Crusaders’ win over the Jaguares. Expect Sam Whitelock to return this week after sitting out the Round 8 clash.
In 22 previous clashes between the teams since 1996, the Crusaders have won 14 and the Brumbies 8. The Brumbies hold a 6-5 advantage in matches played in Canberra.
The Brumbies downed the Waratahs 26-20 at Allianz in a seesawing encounter last Saturday night, with Joe Tomane bagging a hat-trick in a four-tries-to-two success. It was an excellent recovery from a dismal 48-23 home loss to the Chiefs in their previous outing. The Brumbies are atop the Australian Conference with a 5-2 record.
The Crusaders are in fine touch, unbeaten since Round 1 to climb into second spot in the New Zealand Conference. They enjoyed a late 20-19 escape against the lowly Force in Perth in Round 7 on the way back from a triumphant South African trip, before trouncing the Jaguares 32-15 in Christchurch last week.
Blockbusting centres Tevita Kuridrani (Brumbies) and Kieron Fonotia (Crusaders) are potential game-breakers playing outside classy playmakers. Both players will be looking for plenty of involvement in a riveting No.13.
Stats That Matter
The Crusaders have won their last five straight against the Brumbies, including the last two in Canberra. The Brumbies are 7-4 at home since the start of 2015 (5-6 against the line). The Crusaders are 7-4 away since the start of 2015 (overall and ATS). Four of the Crusaders last five wins over the Brumbies were by 13+ margins.
The home-ground advantage sees the Brumbies go in as narrow favourites, but the Crusaders are the overwhelming top-value pick here. Form-wise, the Crusaders have it all over their upcoming hosts at present, slowly building back towards their best as the likes of Dagg, Ryan Crotty and Matt Todd come back from injury layoffs. The Brumbies will need to be clinical and defensively relentless to hold a firepower-laden Crusaders side out, with Jordan Taufua in the forwards and Nameni Nadolo out wide among the most destructive players in the competition. The visitors’ odds as underdogs are too juicy to pass up.
How It’s Shaping Up
Crusaders by 10
Crusaders to win ($2.10)
Crusaders 1-12 ($2.80)
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