Despite the quality of the rugby and teams on offer in Super Rugby Aotearoa, there’s one element that the competition has been missing so far in 2021 – unpredictability.
All six games played to date have fallen the way of the favourites – although the Chiefs looked to be bucking the trend against the Highlanders until Jona Nareki set about righting the universe.
While the Chiefs, Highlanders and Hurricanes have all put up a decent challenge in the early stages of their clashes with the Crusaders and Blues, there was always a sense of inevitability that, at some stage, the competition’s top two sides would cut loose.
In fact, the Highlanders’ opening loss to the Crusaders has been the closest match of the tournament to date, despite falling short by 13 points, going down 13-26 at Forsyth Barr.
While the Crusaders may enter this weekend’s game against the Blues as favourites, that looming sense of certainty has dissipated in the lead-up to the clash.
Will the Crusaders win at Eden Park on Sunday? Maybe, but will it be a run-away victory? Absolutely not.
Last year’s match in Christchurch was perhaps the most thrilling game of the competition. It certainly had a test match feel to it and there were high hopes going into the rematch at the tail-end of the campaign, but that game was called off due to COVID.
Instead, all that excitement and anticipation has been channelled into Sunday’s war – and the players know it.
“I think if you look back through the history of [the Crusaders] playing the Blues, whether it’s here at home or up there at Eden Park, it’s always special,” Crusaders centurion Sam Whitelock said in the build-up to the match.
“Being a part of results that have gone both ways, they’re definitely games that you look back at and think about the ‘if onlys’.
“We [didn’t get to play at Eden Park] last year so that’s definitely playing into a bit of the hype and I think that’s great, I think that’s what Super Rugby wants and needs. It’s great for the players, the coaches, the fans so why wouldn’t we be excited?”
View this post on Instagram
Outside back Will Jordan had a similar take.
“I think it was a little bit of a strange one last year with that game getting cancelled,” he said. “Obviously, with the round-robin format, we … secured the title the week before. It had a little bit of a feeling of a final around it but I guess it wasn’t quite like that
“I know there’s definitely been a lot of hype building up to this game for a long time and the boys are excited to get up to Auckland this week and finally get the chance to play at Eden Park so yeah there’s definitely a huge amount of excitement.”
Crusaders assistant coach Andrew Goodman suggested that the match would be the Crusaders’ biggest test of the year, given both side’s unbeaten records as well as the game being played on the Blues’ home turf.
Sunday’s match kicks off at 3:35pm NZT and will be streamed live on RugbyPass for subscribers who hold a Super Rugby Aotearoa pass.
Listen to the latest episode of the Aotearoa Rugby Pod below:
Sign up to our mailing list for a weekly digest from the wide world of rugby.Sign Up Now