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The Crusaders made it five from five with a bonus point victory at home to the Force last weekend. The 28 point winning margin last weekend easily beat the handicap and although the Crusaders made hay with a couple of customary late tries, this time the game was already in the bag early doors. Earlier we saw inspired comebacks by the Saders to beat the Blues in Christchurch and the Highlanders and Reds in away fixtures. The Saders also won at home to the Brumbies in round one this season and they are on a nine match winning streak against Australian opposition.
After three defeats in their first four matches the Waratahs were under pressure to deliver away to the Rebels in Melbourne last weekend. At 26-5 down at half time another Tahs defeat looked likely but they came out guns blazing in the second half and won 32-25, a morale boosting victory if ever there was one. Two earlier home games for the Tahs delivered a hard fought 19-13 win over the Force in week one and in week four they put in something of a horror show in losing 28-12 to the Brumbies. This will be the Tahs first engagement with a New Zealand side this season and in 2016 they lost four of five to NZ opponents with the only win being a 45-25 home victory over the Chiefs.
Tatafu Polota-Nau’s move to the west of Australia has opened the door for Tolu Latu this year, and how the hooker has taken his chance. The main positive out of the Waratahs’ disappointing start to the campaign, Latu has won 12 turnovers so far this season, the equal most of any player and eight more than Crusaders’ best Sam Whitelock (four). His lineout work will need to be excellent for the Waratahs to have a chance.
New Zealand are far from lacking back row candidates but Jordan Taufua has done his hopes no harm thus far in 2017, with a number of impressive workmanlike efforts for the Crusaders on their unbeaten run. Operating at either flanker or number eight, Taufua can either bury himself into the breakdown or steal the show carrying in attack or delivering big hits in defence. Such a promising all-round talent, he can have a major say on Sunday.
Waratahs boss Daryl Gibson has named his side with Mack Mason set to make his Super Rugby debut when he steps into the number ten jersey with Bernard Foley ruled out. Mason was one of the stand out players part of the Australian U20 side in 2016 that went on to claim victory against New Zealand. Further changes will see Rio Olympian Cam Clark starting at full-back with Israel Folau moving back into the centres, as Rob Horne has been ruled out due to a low grade hamstring injury.
Meanwhile, Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made four changes, including two positional switches. Joe Moody returns to the starting line-up to start at loosehead prop, with Wyatt Crockett covering on the bench. Scott Barrett, who had a successful outing on the blindside flank in last weekend’s win over the Western Force in Christchurch, moves back into his more familiar position of lock alongside Sam Whitelock, with Luke Romano in the reserves. Jordan Taufua shifts to six and Whetu Douglas returns at number eight. The backline is unchanged.
The Crusaders have won 12 of their last 14 games against the Waratahs (L2),though the New South Wales side’s two wins in that run have come in the last three meetings between the teams. The spoils are split at four wins apiece between these clubs in their last eight meetings in New South Wales, with the average winning margin across those games coming in at just four points per game. The Crusaders have won on their last four visits to Australia, the last time they enjoyed a longer streak was a club-best five straight wins from 1999 to 2000.
The form book doesn’t lie heading into this one. Despite a spirited showing from the Waratahs, the Crusaders should make it six in a row. Crusaders by 8.
Waratahs: 15 Cam Clark, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 David Lolohea, 19 David McDuling, 20 Michael Wells, 21 Nick Phipps, 22 Irae Simone, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Digby Ioane, 13 Tim Bateman, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Mitchell Hunt, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Whetu Douglas, 7 Matt Todd, 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Sam Whitelock (c), 4 Scott Barrett, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Luke Romano, 20 Pete Samu, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Marty McKenzie, 23 Manasa Mataele.