The Chiefs hosts the Crusaders today in their final 2020 home game at FMG Stadium Waikato in round eight of Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa. This is going to be a game to watch! While the Chiefs are winless through all seven of their fixtures in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa, they would like nothing more than to rain on the Crusaders' parade and cause a huge upset in front of their home fans on Saturday night. The Crusaders have everything to play for, unable to afford another loss in the scheme of the competition.
There is no need to dwell on the form of the Chiefs. It’s been a tough season. Narrow losses referee errors and frustration, but they’ve maintained a positive attitude and continue to say they are close to a win. The Chiefs lost 17-21 against the Blues last weekend in a brilliant game in which they were unlucky not to win their first game of the season.
Chiefs Head Coach Warren Gatland has made a handful of changes to his twenty-three for the derby clash Saturday 09:05 SA time.
Aaron Cruden will run out in jersey number ten for his 100th Chiefs cap on Saturday. The 31-year-old flyhalf made his debut for the Gallagher Chiefs against the Highlanders in 2012, two years after his Investec Super Rugby and All Black debut in 2010.
Cruden was a key director of the Chiefs’ back-to-back Investec Super Rugby titles in 2012 and 2013. After notching up 89 caps for the Chiefs and co-captaining the team alongside current Chiefs captain Sam Cane, Cruden headed offshore to France in 2017 to play for Montpellier.
The talented playmaker and accurate kicker announced his return to the Gallagher Chiefs late last year. Since Cruden’s return to Investec Super Rugby, he has once again been a standout performer. His leadership, experience, and ability to seamlessly direct play have been key attributes in his many strong contributions in 2020.
The Chiefs powerful forward pack remains unchanged. In the backline, flyhalf Aaron Cruden will run out in jersey number ten for his 100th Gallagher Chiefs cap, shifting rookie Kaleb Trask to the bench. The only other changes to the elusive backline will see Shaun Stevenson return to the starting fifteen on the right-wing, with Sean Wainui shifting to the left-wing following Solomon Alaimalo’s shoulder injury last weekend against the Blues.
The re-enforcements off the bench, All Black prop Angus Ta’avao returns for his first Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa fixture and will be joined by young lock Naitoa Ah Kuoi who returns after being sidelined with a concussion. Waikato loose forward Simon Parker is set to make his mark in Investec Super Rugby named on the bench in jersey twenty for his debut.
Gatland said he is calling for his side to deliver a performance they can be proud of.
“Last weekend I was exceptionally proud of the efforts of the boys. This weekend we need to again strive for a full eighty-minute performance. The Crusaders are a class act and will be hurting from the weekend but as a team, we are ready for the challenge.”
“We have plenty to celebrate this weekend; Aaron’s impending milestone, a potential debut for Simon and we have both Angus and Naitoa returning from injury. We hope our fans come out to celebrate alongside us for our final 2020 home match.” finished Gatland.
Chiefs: 1. Reuben O’Neill, 2. Bradley Slater, 3. Nepo Laulala, 4. Tupou Vaa’i, 5. Mitchell Brown, 6. Lachlan Boshier, 7. Sam Cane (C), 8. Pita Gus Sowakula, 9. Brad Weber, 10. Aaron Cruden, 11. Sean Wainui, 12. Alex Nankivell, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Shaun Stevenson, 15. Damian McKenzie. Replacements: 16. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 17. Ollie Norris, 18. Angus Ta’avao, 19. Naitoa Ah Kuoi, 20. Simon Parker, 21. Lisati Milo-Harris, 22. Kaleb Trask, 23. Quinn Tupaea.
The Crusaders have been their usual best in Investec Super Rugby Aotearoa but suffered their first loss at home against the Hurricanes last week in four years. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Crusaders bounce back from that loss as they look to extend their lead at the top of the table, remembering they have now had both of their byes, so they have a game in hand.
Sam Whitelock is set to become the seventh player to play in his 150th game for the club when he takes the field in Hamilton on Saturday. Whitelock, now in his 11th Super Rugby season, has also been named Vice-Captain for his milestone match.
There are two changes in the forwards this week, with George Bower joining the starting side, and Isileli Tu'ungafasi providing cover at loosehead prop on the bench. Joe Moody will not travel to Hamilton with the side due to a family bereavement.
Flanker Sione Havili joins the starting side in the number six jersey, with Tom Sanders shifting to Number 8 in place of Whetukamokamo Douglas, who is recovering from a medial ligament injury.
There is just one further change in the backline this week, with Mitchell Drummond earning a start, and Bryn Hall named on the bench. Fetuli Paea will once again line up in the midfield alongside Jack Goodhue, with Braydon Ennor still recovering from the toe injury he sustained in the Blues game.
Robertson said: "First and foremost, the thoughts of the Crusaders team and our wider organisation are with Joe Moody and his family at this very sad time, and we'll certainly be thinking of them when we take the field on Saturday night.
"As a group, we're also really proud to be celebrating Sam's 150-game milestone this week, he is such a quality leader and a massive contributor to our team. He's a proud Crusader, and I know the side is keen to show him plenty of respect with our performance.
"We had a really honest review following the Hurricanes game and identified areas we need to get better this week. We're coming up against a Chiefs side who have only been beaten by the smallest of margins so far in this competition, and will be desperate for a win in front of their home fans."
Crusaders: 1. George Bower, 2. Codie Taylor (C), 3. Michael Alaalatoa, 4. Samuel Whitelock (VC), 5. Mitchell Dunshea, 6. Sione Havili, 7. Tom Christie, 8. Tom Sanders, 9. Mitchell Drummond, 10. Richie Mo'unga, 11. George Bridge, 12. Jack Goodhue (VC), 13. Fetuli Paea, 14. Sevu Reece, 15. Will Jordan. Replacements: 16. Andrew Makalio, 17. Isileli Tu'ungafasi, 18. Oliver Jager, 19. Quinten Strange, 20. Billy Harmon, 21. Bryn Hall, 22. Brett Cameron, 23. Leicester Fainga'anuku.
The Crusaders have won six of their last eight Super Rugby games against the Chiefs, including an 18-13 win when they met in Round 3 of Super Rugby Aotearoa – their third-lowest aggregate score of all-time in Super Rugby.
The Chiefs have won seven of their last 10 Super Rugby games at home against the Crusaders, including their last two on the bounce, both in which they had trailed at half-time on the day.
The Chiefs have lost a club-record seven consecutive Super Rugby games heading into this fixture; however, they have managed to earn a losing bonus point from six of those seven games.
The Crusaders have scored eight tries in the final 20 minutes of their games in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the most of any team in the competition and twice as many as the Chiefs (4).
Lachlan Boshier (Chiefs) has attended (174) and been effective at (142) the most rucks of any player in Super Rugby Aotearoa, as well as being the first player to hit a ruck the most times (87).