Crusaders assistant coach Tamati Ellison believes his side need to withstand the anticipated onslaught from the Chiefs at the breakdown if they are to claim their fifth straight Super Rugby crown.
The Crusaders will host the Super Rugby Aotearoa final against the Hamilton franchise in Christchurch on Saturday as they look to defend their long-standing champion status.
Tipped by many as favourites to emerge from Orangetheory Stadium with the silverware in tandem, Ellison was adamant the resurgent Chiefs pose a serious threat to their title hopes, largely due to their presence and ability at the breakdown.
“I think they’ll be physical at the breakdown,” Ellison told media of the threat the Chiefs pose to the Crusaders.
“They’re well-coached and they’ve got some good players on the ball. They’ve obviously got some X-factor, both starting and on the bench, so they’ll probably look to move the ball if they have the chance as well.”
Those players Ellison mentioned include the Chiefs’ powerhouse loose forward trio consisting of Pita Gus Sowakula, Lachlan Boshier and Luke Jacobson.
Sowakula has been in good form all season as Clayton McMillan’s side evolved from last season’s winless wooden-spooners to a team that has beaten every Kiwi franchise to deservedly secure a place in this year’s final.
Boshier and Jacobson, meanwhile, have bounced strongly from their respective injury concerns to force their way into the All Blacks selection debate.
All three players are bound to have a noticeable impact on Saturday’s final through their work at the breakdown, but Ellison pointed to a former All Blacks teammate who could be crucial in giving the Chiefs an extra edge in their quest for an upset win.
“They’ve been pretty good at the breakdown this year and traditionally they are as well. The koro Liam Messam was back there [last week], he’s probably talking about the breakdown to them last week as well, so we expect it.”
Although the Chiefs’ prowess over the ball is one of their strengths, it’s hardly as if the Crusaders don’t have any strike power of their own within their back row and at the breakdown.
They have an All Black in No. 8 Cullen Grace, while Ethan Blackadder, who is starting at blindside flanker, could well join him in the national squad after his coming-of-age performances throughout the year.
The Crusaders could tonight claim their fifth Super Rugby title on the trot and build on an already incredible dynasty. They’ve done that almost exclusively by nurturing young talent. #SuperRugbyAotearoa #CRUvCHI
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— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) May 7, 2021
Tongan-born openside flanker Sione Havili Talitui is another player with plenty of potential, and veteran hooker Codie Taylor has also proven himself as a quality pilferer when called upon.
It’s for that reason that Ellison is confident his side can withstand the pressure the Chiefs are set to apply in the tackled ball area during the final.
“What do I want to see there? Much of what we train every week, making sure we win races and get our heads in and that’s the biggest part for us,” he said of how his side plans to nullify the threat posed by the Chiefs.
“We probably got a warning shot up in Hamilton [in last month’s 26-25 defeat to the Chiefs], but it’s an area of our game we’re constantly looking to improve.”
Kick-off for the Super Rugby Aotearoa final is scheduled for 7:05pm on Saturday [NZT].
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