Super semifinal pits present against future
Chiefs Arizona Taumalolo punches the air. AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford
Anyone with even a passing interest in rugby should be glued to the television this Friday night, because the Chiefs and Crusaders are going to put on quite a show in Hamilton.
These two sides met on the same ground just two weeks ago, and they delivered one of the season’s most memorable matches. The game ended with the Chiefs besieging the visitors’ line after the siren, desperately trying to rescue a draw.
If inside centre Sonny Bill Williams had just passed instead of diving for the try line himself, there may well have been an entirely different result that night. Similarly fine margins will determine the winner on Friday.
Make no mistake, the quality of rugby on display will be more than enough to hold our attention. But the game will also contain an especially intriguing subplot, as the All Blacks’ current linchpins clash with the men who will eventually replace them.
Even though they finished second in the New Zealand conference, the Crusaders must be considered slight favourites for this match. They boast all of the experience that comes with having played in eleven consecutive finals series.
More specifically, they have the outrageous talents of Daniel Carter and Richie McCaw at their disposal. These two guys have been performing under pressure for years, and they certainly know how to win when it matters.
Take last week, for instance. Sure, the Bulls were off their game in Christchurch, but McCaw and Carter both stamped their authority on the match in the opening stages and never let up. Their experience shone through big time.
Both men will line-up against their likely All Black successors on Friday night. Aaron Cruden has finally established himself as Carter’s probable long term replacement at flyhalf, while young flanker Sam Cane continues to impress at every opportunity.
Cruden has really come of age this year, after several erratic seasons had led many to question his credentials as an All Black. His goalkicking has improved markedly, along with his decision-making in general play.
That 24 minute cameo for New Zealand in Hamilton during the June internationals was of astounding quality. Cruden cut the Irish to shreds that night, putting the result beyond any doubt inside the opening quarter.
The man clearly enjoys playing at Waikato Stadium, as does his mate on the side of the scrum. Sam Cane has recently taken to wearing headgear on the field, which actually makes him resemble a youthful Richie McCaw from a distance.
If you keep a close eye on Cane during any match, you will realise that the similarities actually run far deeper. This boy’s work rate, effectiveness in defence, strong running and sublime ability to pilfer the ball are all reminiscent of the All Black captain.
While their rivals were doing battle down south, the Chiefs were enjoying a well earned break from the action. Just as well, because the semifinal will be a physical game to say the least.
If other recent kiwi derbies are any indication, and they are, then Friday’s encounter will be a pulsating and thoroughly entertaining spectacle.
While we sit back and enjoy the tries and the big hits, we should also relish the opportunity to see the All Blacks’ present and future going head to head.
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