Matthew Morrow previews this weekend’s massive Super Rugby Semi-Final between the Crusaders and the Sharks. Both teams will battle it out for a place in Super Rugby’s thrilling climax.
Crusaders v Sharks
Saturday, July 26th.
08:35 am (GMT)
AMI Stadium, Christchurch
The first semi-final pits the most successful franchise in Super Rugby history against South Africa’s only representative in this year’s Finals – perhaps highlighting the struggle within South African club rugby to hold onto their best players against the financial temptation of Europe.
On the face of it, the Crusaders start this game as favorites, and deservedly so. Like all New Zealand sides they tend to dominate at home and their squad matches up well to the strengths of the Sharks, namely when it comes to the set-piece. With Richie McCaw back from injury, although playing as a blindside owing to Matt Todd’s superb form at 7, the Crusaders are more or less at full strength.
Dan Carter has integrated himself back into the side in an efficient and influential manner, and expect the Crusaders to get the ball wide with Colin Slade and Carter playing as first and second five-eighth. Their tactical kicking game should also be superior, which should result in Crusaders having the edge territorially.
The Sharks, however, will be no pushovers and they will ensure a robust and extremely physical test for the Crusaders, led by the behemoth that is Bismarck du Plessis at hooker. As well as du Plessis, the Sharks can call on significant Springbok experience in the form of Francois Steyn, JP Pietersen and Willem Alberts.
The pack will need to secure at least parity in Christchurch in order to allow Steyn to use his vision and massive kicking game to try and dictate tempo and field position. From there the Sharks will try to squeeze the life out of the Crusaders pack and hope that Steyn takes advantage of the inevitable penalty opportunities.
The Crusaders have the match experience and game winners in important positions to allow them to see off the Sharks. Any side with the triumvirate of Carter, McCaw and Read will always be very tough to beat and this should be a bridge too far for the Sharks, who have the further disadvantage of having played the Highlanders in a draining playoff game last week.
Crusaders by 10.
Matthew Morrow, Pundit Arena.
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