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Why the Crusaders will take ‘real confidence’ into decisive Waratahs clash

By Finn Morton
Johnny McNicholl of the Crusaders celebrates after scoring a try during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Crusaders and Chiefs at Apollo Projects Stadium, on March 29, 2024, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

Rugby World Cup winner Mils Muliaina believes the Crusaders should take “real confidence” into their upcoming clash with the NSW Waratahs as the defending champions look to claim what would be their second win of the season.

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The Crusaders snapped their historic losing streak in round five against the Chiefs in Christchurch, and after a bye week, have named a menacing lineup which includes the return of All Blacks loose forward Ethan Blackadder.

Blackadder, 29, who hasn’t played since New Zealand’s big win over Uruguay at last year’s Rugby World Cup in France, is set for his first minutes of the Super Rugby Pacific season after being named to start at blindside flanker.

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Coach Rob Penney has also named Noah Hotham to start at scrumhalf after the 2023 New Zealand U20s captain’s sensational performance last time out against the Chiefs. Hotham was especially impressive during the first quarter of that fixture.

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But, as former All Black Mils Muliaina discussed this week, the news isn’t so good for the NSW Waratahs who have lost world-class prop Angus Bell for the season. The Wallaby has re-injured his big-toe ligament.

“Angus Bell, he’s a huge loss,” Muliaina said on Stan Sports’ The Call Up. “Not only is he a great and fantastic scrummanger but around the park he’s also very dominant in that space.

“Considering what’s coming off the bench for the Crusaders, he’ll be sorely missed.

“I like the fact that Noah Hotham gets another chance. You’ll obviously remember before the bye they beat the Chiefs (and) Noah was on the bench and he had to come in at the very last minute for (Mitchell) Drummond who fell ill that day.

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“(Hotham) had an integral part in that win. He played an integral part in the win against the Chiefs to get them back.

“I think the boost from Ethan Blackadder, the muscle that he’s going to bring particularly off the back of that victory, he’s going to be a big part. Having those guys come back… I think the Crusaders can go into this with real confidence.”

With the likes of Scott Barrett, David Havili, Mitchell Drummond and Tamaiti Williams still unavailable, openside flanker Tom Christie has retained the captaincy. Christie joins Blackadder and Cullen Grace in a lethal backrow trio.

Try-scoring machines Sevu Reece and Johnny McNicholl will line up on each wing with All Black Dallas McLeod and marquee recruit Levi Aumua in the midfield.

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Aumua, who made the move from Moana Pasifika to the Crusaders, hasn’t quite reached the heights that many expected of him in the famous red and black jersey as two-time World Cup winner Tim Horan discussed.

“When you look at the side Mils it’s a cracking Crusaders side,” Tim Horan added. “We’ve got Sevu Reece there, (Dallas) McLeod, Cullen Grace and I just think that Ethan Blackadder’s back in.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
3
Draws
0
Wins
2
Average Points scored
30
36
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
60%

“The big matchup I’m looking forward to is Levi Aumua in the centre up against Izzy Perese. That defensively for Izzy Perese is going to be a really big challenge for him.

“Levi Aumua, he was chased by three or four different clubs. He was keen to go back to the Queensland Reds where he went to school for his last two years in Brisbane, and the Crusaders picked him up.

“He’s got to start delivering for this team. He’s got to start to really try and carry them across the advantage line to give them a platform.”

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J
Jon 23 hours ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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