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‘Gives them hope’: Ex-All Black previews Crusaders’ ‘different challenge’

By Finn Morton
Sevu Reece of the Crusaders (bottom centre) reacts after scoring a try during the round two Super Rugby Pacific match between Crusaders and NSW Waratahs at AAMI Park, on March 02, 2024, in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Former All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson has explained why the winless Crusaders will carry a sense of “hope” into their upcoming New Zealand derby with the Chiefs under the lights in Christchurch on Friday night.

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For the first time in team history, the Crusaders have started a Super Rugby season with a 0-5 record. The defending competition champions fought valiantly in their one home match of the season a fortnight ago but were pipped late by the Hurricanes.

The Crusaders’ last match was a game of two halves in Auckland as the visitors kept the scores close before the break, but it was a different story altogether against the Blues in the second 40.

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With the Western Force registering a stunning upset win over the Queensland Reds on Saturday, the Crusaders are dead last on the Super Rugby Pacific ladder as the only team yet to win a match.

Looking to get their season “started” at Apollo Projects Stadium, the headline-grabbing omission of one of the Chiefs’ biggest stars may give the Crusaders a very real chance of snapping their losing run.

“Nothing’s changed for them because their season hasn’t got started. The reality is they’re under a lot of pressure, they desperately need a win – they desperately need a bye, they need to get healthy, they need some things to change,” Jeff Wilson said on Stan Sports’ The Call Up.

“I suppose what gives them hope now is they’re going up against a Chiefs team that has no Damian McKenzie. That’s the big shift that’s happened in this game.

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“Josh Jacomb is a young first five. It’s going to be his responsibility to drive this team around the park.

“But, the last time the Crusaders were at home it was against the Hurricanes and they played very, very well. They were within one or two plays, big plays, of beating them.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
0
Wins
3
Average Points scored
25
29
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
60%

“They’ll understand that there’s pressure on but I think it’s got significantly, (I won’t) say easier but it’s a different challenge now that McKenzie’s not there.”

The Crusaders have made four changes to their starting side for the sixth round of the season with halfback Mitchell Drummond slotting into the No. 9 jersey and taking up the captaincy.

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Drummond, who has played one Test for the All Blacks, is the Crusaders’ fourth captain of the year after Scott Barrett, David Havili and flanker Tom Christie.

Flanker Corey Kellow, outside back Johnny McNicholl and centre Dalla McLeod have also been promoted to the starting side ahead of a clash between last year’s grand finalists.

“I couldn’t agree more,” former Wallaby Morgan Turinui added in response to Jeff Wilson. “Drummond in as well for the Crusaders.

“It’s round six, you’re the team on the bottom of the table, and you’ve got to play the Chiefs for the second time this season. You’ve got to be filthy.

“But if you’re the Crusaders, you know that when Damian McKenzie went off the field in round one they came roaring back into the game. The Chiefs last week when McKenzie went off were a completely different team.

“This might be the moment the Crusaders just have to find a win at home.”

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