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Super Rugby final preview: New South Wales Waratahs host Christchurch Crusaders at Sydney's ANZ Stadium
New South Wales Waratahs do battle with seven-time champions Crusaders in Saturday’s Super Rugby final in Sydney, with the hosts desperate to end their final failings and claim a maiden crown.
Twice the Waratahs have graced the biggest stage in the southern hemisphere’s premier competition, yet have bowed at the feet of the Christchurch Crusaders on both occasions.
In 2005 the Crusaders roared to a 35-25 triumph in the showpiece event and again prevailed on home soil in 2008 with a 20-12 win, but it is the Waratahs – playing in front of a partisan ANZ Stadium crowd – who are billed as favourites to clinch the 2014 title.
The New South Wales franchise are in pole position to overcome their final heartache after a table-topping season which has seen them deploy thrilling attacking play but they will come up against the stoic defensive might of the Crusaders.
As is so often the case the team at the regular season summit are joined by the runners-up, although a seven-point gulf separated the sides at the end of term.
The free-flowing Waratahs chalked up 55 tries on their way to claiming nine scoring bonus-points from 12 wins, while the Crusaders earned maximum points in only four of their 11 triumphs.
It is a clash which pits brute force against dynamic flair. IRB World Player of the Year Kieran Read, talismanic All Black Richie McCaw and uncompromising flanker Matt Todd spearheading a potent Crusaders pack, while the attacking zeal of leading try-scorer Israel Folau and highly-rated winger Alofa Alofa give the Waratahs a lethal edge.
All Blacks full-back Israel Dagg and flyer Nemani Nadolo – scorer of 11 tries this season – are the men charged with getting the better of Folau and Alofa, while Wallaby duo Adam Ashley-Cooper and Kurtley Beale will lock horns with All Black centurion Dan Carter and Ryan Crotty in an all-international midfield battle.
Todd Blackadder’s Crusaders cruised into the final with a resounding five-try demolition of South African side the Sharks, while the Waratahs overcame Australian conference rivals Brumbies 26-8 to earn another shot at the elusive Super Rugby crown they crave so dearly.
“We’ve got to keep pushing, holding on is not enough,” Cheika told the club’s official website. “We will go out there, play as we have all season and play good attacking footy and give them some trouble.
“The Crusaders are a powerful unit who really focus on their set piece and will be confident after taking apart a strong Sharks outfit.”
Despite being kept apart from the Waratahs in the regular season draw, Blackadder insists his Crusaders are not fazed the challenge stood before them.
"There is an unknown element given that we haven't played the Waratahs so far this year, but that goes for both teams," he claimed.
“We are just focused on being as prepared as we can be to put in the best performance we're capable of.
"We know we have the game of our lives ahead of us but are not daunted by the challenge, we are looking forward to it.”
Waratahs: 15 Folau, 14 Alofa, 13 Ashley-Cooper, 12 Beale, 11 Horne, 10 Foley, 9 Phipps; 1 Robinson, 2 Nau, 3 Kepu, 4 Potgieter, 5 Douglas, 6 Hoiles, 7 Hooper (capt), 8 Palu
Replacements (two to be omitted): 16 Latu, 17 Tilse, 18 Ryan, 19 Skelton, 20 Chapman, 21 McCutcheon, 22 McKibbin, 23 Naiyaravoro, 24 Carraro, 25 Betham
Crusaders: 15 Dagg, 14 Fonotia, 13 Crotty, 12 Carter, 11 Nadolo, 10 Slade, 9 Ellis; 1 Crockett, 2 Flynn, 3 O Franks, 4 Bird, 5 S Whitelock, 6 McCaw, 7 Todd, 8 Kieran Read (capt)
Replacements: 16 Funnell, 17 Moody, 18 Laulala, 19 Tupou, 20 Taufau, 21 Heinz, 22 Taylor, 23 McNicholl
Don't miss a second of the 2014 Super Rugby final with all the action live from 10:15am on Sky Sports 1HD!