Saturday will see what has become known to be one the great clashes in global provincial rugby when the Crusaders take on the Blues in Christchurch.
It is a rivalry steeped in over one hundred years of tradition. For present purposes, however, it will be considered within the context of Super Rugby.
For the first five years since the commencement of Super Rugby, the Blues and Crusaders dominated the competition; the former winning the first two instalments and the latter, in a remarkable effort, hoisted the trophy for three consecutive years from 1998 to 2000 (a feat they repeated, incidentally, from 2017 to 2019).
Auckland and Christchurch have always been traditional powerhouses of New Zealand rugby and both teams transitioned into the professional era rather seamlessly, but no one could have predicted the overall dominance the Crusaders would unleash on the competition; notching up 10 titles to their name in 24 seasons.
The Blues, by comparison, have only won once more since their glory days of the late 90s; when Xavier Rush’s charges pulled one over the Crusaders, 21-17, in 2003.
In total, the teams have crossed paths 26 times with the Crusaders winning 15 and the Blues 11; they have never drawn.
The last time the Blues beat the Crusaders away from home, Carlos Spencer did this 🤯 pic.twitter.com/c9u0F5NvGV— Ultimate Rugby (@ultimaterugby) July 9, 2020
The most points for the Crusaders against their rivals is 59 – during a woeful season for the Blues in 2012. However, the Blues have managed to administer a significant thrashing of their own, posting 49 points to the Crusaders’ 12 in 1996.
Overall, it appears that the Crusaders have the Blues’ number in terms of the stats, having scored a total of 651 points while conceding 572. What does smack of excitement, however, is that the average points difference between them is only 3.04.
Both teams have been magnificent so far in Super Rugby Aotearoa, exhibiting running rugby at its best. Fans can expect a titanic battle up front; the Blues pack have forged a deserved reputation as a mobile, marauding presence on the paddock, solid in the set pieces and fearless rucks. The likes of Hoskins Sotutu, Dalton Papali’i and Ofa Tuungafasi, who have been sublime thus far, will face their biggest test this weekend, squaring up to names such as Sam Whitelock, Michael Alaalatoa and Tom Christie – personifications of traditional Crusaders grit formidability.
In the backs, it is hoped that the superb attacking ability of Mark Telea, Caleb Clarke, Beauden Barrett, Will Jordan, David Havili and Sevu Reece will dominate the teams’ time with ball in hand.
Another interesting battle looms in the fly-half channel where Otere Black will take on Richie Mo’unga. Black has been nothing short of impressive thus far, his most striking attacking feature being his ability to put his teammates into space with fantastic passing. Mo’unga, predictably, has been his usual, brilliant self.
As is traditional in the game of rugby, the lion’s share of the responsibility will lie with the men with numbers 1 to 8 on their backs. A solid platform up front from either side will provide the opportunity to ignite the spectacular backlines.
It’s a mouth-watering clash on paper, let’s hope the players bring their best.
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