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Ex-All Black ranks Blues ahead of Crusaders as team to beat in Super Rugby Pacific

By Sam Smith
(Photos / Getty Images)

Former All Blacks wing Jeff Wilson has ranked the Blues ahead of the Crusaders as the team to beat in Super Rugby Pacific.

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Speaking on The Breakdown, Wilson listed the top five teams in his Super Rugby Pacific power rankings, with the Blues edging the Crusaders at the summit of his list.

It comes after the Auckland-based franchise kept the Chiefs scoreless for the first time in Super Rugby history when they beat their local rivals 25-0 at FMG Stadium Waikato in Hamilton last Saturday.

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That victory, according to Wilson, was highly impressive and underlined the breadth of depth and quality throughout Leon MacDonald’s squad.

The former 60-test international added that, after that win, the pressure is now on the Blues claim the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific title after having ended their 18-year championship drought by winning Super Rugby Trans-Tasman last year.

“This was difficult, but I’m going to do it. Clearly it’s the Blues,” Wilson told The Breakdown while explaining why the Blues topped his power rankings.

“For you to go down to FMG Stadium, to take on the Chiefs in such good form… to see Beauden Barrett doing this [setting up tries], to see them defending the way that they’re defending, the pressure’s on them now to deliver on a title.

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“That’s what the pressure is at. They delivered half a title last year. They’ve got their opportunity to deliver the full one.

“Their squad is strong. They’ve got Roger Tuivasa-Sheck coming back. Akira Ioane will be back. They’ve got depth, their young guys are stepping up, they’ve got everything they need to be a champion.”

Wilson’s claim that the Blues are currently the best team in the competition left the Crusaders in second spot on his power rankings, despite the Christchurch-based franchise having the same win-loss record as the Blues this season.

With six wins from seven matches, the Crusaders – who have won five titles in as many years under the guidance of head coach Scott Robertson – trail the second-placed Blues only by points differential.

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That sets up a blockbusting clash between the traditional foes at Orangetheory Stadium this Friday, which the Crusaders remain warm favourites to win.

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However, that didn’t stop Wilson from ranking them behind the Blues as he believes the Crusaders aren’t as dominant as they have been in recent years.

In saying that, Wilson made note that Robertson’s side are yet to reach their best this year and predicted they will get better as the season goes on.

“Remembering this is our defending Super Rugby champions. When we had a full competition, this was the team that was unbeatable,” Wilson told The Breakdown of the Crusaders.

“I don’t think they’re as dominant with ball in hand this year as they have been. They’re not doing it as easy.

“We’ve seen in the last two weeks, they’ve been pushed right to the brink, remembering they’re missing the likes of Sam Whitelock. This guy [Will Jordan] has been in fantastic form.

“I see them at the moment, they’re not playing their best rugby, but doing enough to win. They will get better. I’m expecting them to open up.”

The Chiefs rounded out the top three on Wilson’s top five power rankings, which also featured Australia’s top two teams, the Reds and Brumbies.

Wilson reserved plenty of praise for the Reds and Brumbies, the latter side of which currently sits at the summit of the Super Rugby Pacific table.

“At number five, I have the Brumbies. Why do I have the Brumbies? Because they’ve done it. They’re on top of the table, they’re the fifth team at the moment I see being competitive,” Wilson told The Breakdown.

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“What we know is they’re accurate, they’re disciplined, they’ve got plenty of experience, they’re consistent in their performances every season.

“They continue to play and play well, they can rely on their set piece, they’re a side that will learn from their experiences last year against the New Zealand teams, so you’ve got to say they’re going well.

“Brad Thorn’s doing a fantastic job in Australia with the Reds side. They were dominant against the Brumbies at home.

“Both of these teams have shared one apiece this season, but with James O’Connor leading the ship, they’re a team that have got plenty of talent, the likes of [Filipo] Daugunu, the likes of [Jordan] Petaia, plenty to like across their loose forward trio as well.

“They’re fronting up and fronting up well.”

Wilson added that while injuries to the likes of Brodie Retallick and Anton Lienert-Brown may hurt the Chiefs’ title chances this season, the Hamilton-based outfit remain a strong chance at challenging for the Super Rugby Pacific title.

“This has changed, the top three, since Friday. The Chiefs are at three, and why do I still see them there? I think they’re playing the quality and type of rugby I think is going to stress the Australian teams and they can get on a run with some momentum.

“Then you think about the way they’ve performed to date in this competition. They’ve been exciting to watch, they’ve had some standout players.

“They’re missing a couple of key guys at the moment – Brodie Retallick, no Tupou Vaa’i, big loss in Anton Lienert-Brown. That might hurt them later on in the season, but they’ve always been a side that have had players step up.”

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Shaylen 14 hours ago
Brumbies the best team in Australia but still nothing to show for it

The Brumbies have been the strongest side in Australia for a long time and that was down to their forwards and set piece which has always been good and has always been able to dominate their Australian counterparts. This year the lack of maul tries and also the lack of a stable scrum has been a real problem which was also something Nick alluded to in his article this week about the creaking brumbies tight five. Home advantage is key as you say and the Brumbies must find a way to score more bonus points. If the Brumbies are really serious about winning a title they need to do what Kiwi sides at the top do. They need to smash every Aus side with a bonus point at home while claiming losing bonus points in every game they lose and denying their rivals bonus points. In their 3 losses in NZ this year they were smashed. They only scored 60 tries which is middle of the road, their scrum came in at 73% which was one of the worst in the comp, tackle success at just 83% which was right at the bottom and in terms of metres, clean breaks, carries, offloads and rucks built they were in the middle plus they had the most yellows. They basically were just not dominant enough wile they can improve their discipline. They excelled at kicking and won plenty of lineout ball plus their rucks were secure at 97%. Not sure about turnovers but they weren’t bad there. They just need to be more clinical and give away less and they will give themselves the best chance to win the title.

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