Openside looks at the Super XV clash between Crusaders & Sharks on Saturday morning and believes this will be a dour struggle with points likely to be hard to come by.
Crusaders v Sharks
I find this one pretty hard to call. The general consensus seems to be that the Crusaders hammered the Highlanders; the Highlanders then travelled to South Africa and put it up to the Sharks, therefore, the Crusaders win comfortably. I think that’s an over-simplification. First of all, Ben Smith didn’t play when the Crusaders played the Highlanders, thus starving them of the most devastating counter attacking player in the game and the Highlanders also benched Sopoaga for that match.
For a team that doesn’t have a pack to compete at the highest level, that rendered the Highlanders impotent. It’s safe to say that the Crusaders will offer plenty more resistance at the set piece. Their entire pack has been capped and is probably only 2-3 players short of being first choice for NZ. There’s enough experience in there to know how to cope with the Sharks’ physical onslaught and it’s quite likely that the two packs will cancel out one another at the set piece.
From a Sharks perspective, it’s therefore vital for them that their kick/chase game is on the money. It didn’t work against the Highlanders, but then the Crusaders don’t have anywhere near the same counter-attacking threat. Dagg has been mediocre all season and he tends to kick the ball back more often than not these days. On the few occasions he does keep the ball in hand, it tends to be the wrong decision and he’s often seen running into a wall of defenders.
For all their talent, the Crusaders are quite a conservative team themselves, albeit not quite on the same level as the Sharks, but they seldom run the ball inside their own half. The Sharks have the more dangerous outside backs, but it’s debatable how much quality ball they will see. The Crusaders have the more creative half backs and, with Carter at 12, that tilts the balance in their favour, but it is a marginal call.
I can see this being a very tight game played at test match intensity, with possible a single moment of magic or a mistake deciding the outcome. Unders looks the obvious call given what’s at stake, the conservative approach of both sides and how closely matched they are on paper.
However, the scoreboard can often rise rapidly in multiples of 3 in the SH, with teams often happy to concede penalties safe in the knowledge that refs will keep their cards in their pockets, so a punt on Under 4.5 tries also looks worthy of support.