After 90 matches across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, we are down to the glory-or-bust final of Super Rugby Pacific between the Blues and Crusaders on Saturday night.
The theme above all others in the quarter-finals and semi-finals to date is a 7-0 landslide of results to the home team.
Can the Crusaders, as 10-time champions, write another chapter to their wonderful history or can the barnstorming Blues win their first Super Rugby title since 2003.
Where is the value in this final? The more units placed on a betting tip, the higher the confidence level.
Sat, June 11, Eden Park, Auckland 5.05pm (AEST)
The first thing to say...this is a toss-up final so the arguments and factors rolled out here may nudge you either way.
OK, why the Blues can win.
The power of home ground advantage at Auckland’s Eden Park is the big factor that weighs in favour of the Blues when compared to the Crusaders’ proven pedigree in finals.
It was super important that the Blues buried their hoodoo when he comes to the Crusaders before the final.
The 27-23 win over the Crusaders back in April ended 18 years without a win in Christchurch. As importantly, it ended a run of 14 straight losses in that match-up since the Blues won way back in February, 2014.
The Blues play on the front foot. No side rolls over the gainline more (67 per cent) when carting the ball than the Blues. Read that as Hoskins Sotutu and his big bopper mates in the pack but also key backs like Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Rieko Ioane, Mark Telea and Co.
The Blues have weapons. Ioane, Telea, Beauden Barrett, the much-improved Stephen Perofeta and heavy-hitting forwards are individually excellent but they also have a chemistry that most Blues teams of the past 15 years have not.
The Blues have Barrett. He’s in rare form and showed it with decisive running, linking and key decisions from flyhalf in the tight semi-final win over the Brumbies.
The Blues know they can win in a tight finish in the final five minutes. They have beaten the Brumbies (twice) and the Waratahs that way and that’s only in recent weeks.
OK, why the Crusaders can win.
They are the Crusaders and it’s a final. No team has played in more finals or won more (10).
They’ve won against the odds on the road in finals. Frontline Crusaders Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor, Richie Mo’unga, Dave Havili, George Bridge, and Jack Goodhue were all part of the Crusaders side which beat the Lions 25-17 in hostile Johannesburg to win the 2017 final.
They are the masters of counter-attack. No side has scored more tries (11) initiated from kick returns this season.
The Crusaders have Richie Mo’unga and Will Jordan. Flyhalf Mo’unga’s footwork to create something from nothing is exceptional. He's beaten 48 defenders in 11 games.
That’s high quality and fullback Jordan is his equal...his silky moving has evaded 60 defenders in 13 games and he has 10 tries to prove it.
The Crusaders have weapons and scorepower. Wingers Sevu Reece and Leicester Fainga’anuku are dynamic finishers with 19 tries between them this season. That’s an expression of the fluid teamwork in the Crusaders attack.
We’ve had a look at the strengths of both sides. Now for two other key areas.
Finals are so often decided by the best defence and discipline. On that score, it’s hard to split the sides too on tackle completion percentage or penalties conceded.
When the Blues beat the Blues in April, the Crusaders did concede a Scott Barrett red card and a yellow as well. Those moments can decide a final because they have all season. The Crusaders have been red carded four times this season, double that of the Blues.
Here’s a range of tipping pointers for the final where we are backing...Blues by 5
Blues to win both halves ($3.10 at TAB) 1 Unit
Will Jordan anytime tryscorer ($2.15) 1.5 Units
$1.88 (4 Units)
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