By Charity Knight
RIVALRIES REACH their peak this weekend as the Queensland Reds take on the Canterbury Crusaders in an epic battle to become the victors of the 2011 Super 15.
Both teams are aiming to put out unchanged line-ups from their semi- final matches against the Stormers and Auckland Blues respectively. However, this does depend on whether Crusaders scrum-half Andy Ellis will be declared fit this afternoon after knee and shoulder bruising.
Crusaders second-row reserve Luke Romano will only just make the line- up after quarantine held him in South Africa after he contracted chicken pox. Although he is now better, Chris Jack is included as cover for Romano.
It is the first time this year that Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has used the same combination in consecutive games.
McKenzie, commenting on his decision, said: “At this stage you benefit greatly from continuity and the team we selected against the Blues did a wonderful job and deserve another opportunity…we have the right mix of experience and talent to be successful on Saturday night.”
Tickets, released on Wednesday (6 July), sold out in 45 minutes to create a record Super Rugby crowd of 52,000 at Brisbane’s Suncorp Stadium. A capacity crowd would beat Australia’s rugby attendance record for a provincial of 49,327 in 1907.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said: “We’ve had a good week here in Brisbane and the players look full of energy. It’s going to be a great occasion.”
The match will be as much a clash of neighbouring nations as it will for the team’s star players. Reds Half-backs, Quade Cooper and Will Genia, are going to cause the greatest problem for the Crusaders defence, and will wary of of giving Dan Carter any opportunity to put point on the board with penalties.
“They’ve [Reds] got Genia running round the sides of the rucks with the forwards and they can roll out the back to Cooper.” said Blackadder
“When they get on the front foot, they have a lot of threats. We have to be defensively sound.”
Blackadder is expecting the Reds to continue their counter-attacking game plan that worked so well in their semi-finals game against the Blues. He continued by saying, that they have to be wary of Cooper as his game playing is sensational this year, looking like a serious threat every time he touches the ball.
Cooper set up a spectacular try against the Blues. When trapped in his own half against the sideline, he fended of Lachie Munro, blasted past Stephen Kenny, ran 30 metres the offloaded to Ben Tapuai, who scored.
With a close final score in their last encounter, where Reds beat Crusaders 17-16, Saturday’s match is expected to be a tight affair and the Crusaders will be looking to give Carter a chance to make an impression on the scoreboard with his left boot.
This weekend’s final will be the Reds first Super Rugby final since 1995, and the Crusaders 10th. The question is, will it be home advantage for the Reds, or will the Crusaders continue their Super Rugby winning streak and give the people of Christchurch something cheer after this years devastating earthquakes.
Reds V. Crusaders (Sky Sports 2 at 10.30 am, Saturday 9 July.)
Reds :1. Ben Daley , 2. Saia Faingaa , 3. Greg Holmes , 4. Rob Simmons , 5. James Horwill (c) , 6. Scott Higginbotham , 7. Beau Robinson , 8. Radike Samo , 9. Will Genia (vc) , 10. Quade Cooper , 11. Digby Ioane , 12. Ben Tapuai , 13. Anthony Faingaa , 14. Rod Davies , 15. Jono Lance
Replacements : 16. James Hanson , 17. Guy Shepherdson , 18. Adam Wallace-Harrison , 19. Jake Schatz , 20. Liam Gill , 21. Ian Prior , 22. Will Chambers
Crusaders team: 1. Wyatt Crockett , 2. Corey Flynn , 3. Owen Franks , 4. Brad Thorn , 5. Sam Whitelock , 6. George Whitelock , 7. Richie McCaw (c) , 8. Kieran Read , 9. Andy Ellis/Kahn Fotuali’i , 10. Dan Carter , 11. Zac Guildford , 12. Sonny Bill Williams , 13. Robbie Fruean , 14. Sean Maitland , 15. Tom Marshall
Replacements : 16. Quentin MacDonald , 17. Ben Franks , 18. Luke Romano/Chris Jack , 19. Matt Todd , 20. Kahn Fotuali’i/Willi Heinz , 21. Matt Berquist , 22. Ryan Crotty