Watch the Crusaders vs Blues, live on Sky Sports Action and Sky Sports Main Event on Saturday from 7.30am
By Michael Cantillon
Last Updated: 09/07/20 4:57pm
From prop to full-back, we look at some of the key match-ups ahead of Saturday’s pivotal Super Rugby Aotearoa clash between the Crusaders and Blues, live on Sky Sports.
Whetu Douglas vs Hoskins Sotutu
There’s little debate that Blues No 8 Sotutu has been the standout player in Super Rugby Aotearoa to date – but up against the Crusaders pack on their own turf, he’ll face a vastly different challenge.
His direct opposite number on Saturday will be Douglas, a man who not that long ago was the talk of Super Rugby in New Zealand – if not to the same extent as 21-year-old Sotutu.
Brought in as injury cover from Waikato in 2017 for the injured Kieran Read, Douglas impressed so much at the back of the Crusaders scrum, they wanted a permanent deal signed. The No 8 had already committed to a contract in Italy with Benetton, however.
In 2019, he returned to the Crusaders and with Read now moved on to Japan since the 2019 World Cup, Douglas will be looking to put down a marker.
As such, Sotutu vs Douglas is sure to be one to keep an eye on.
David Havili vs Beauden Barrett
If Sotutu has been the most impressive forward through Super Rugby Aotearoa, then perhaps the best back has been Crusaders full-back Will Jordan. Despite that, Jordan starts on the bench on Saturday though.
As a result, Havili earns the nod to start at 15, up against All Blacks playmaker Barrett in Christchurch.
Since his shock transfer, Barrett has grown in terms of influence and quality of performance in a Blues jersey, and he will be itching to lead his new teammates to what would be a statement result away at the reigning three-time champions.
The headlines from a Crusaders perspective may be on the omission of Jordan, but Havili is no light touch. Indeed, the 25-year-old has been key to title successes in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Both clever, both quick and both skilful. Who will stand out more?
Sam Whitelock vs Patrick Tuipulotu
In terms of talismanic second row figures in New Zealand rugby at the moment, look no further than Whitelock of the Crusaders and Tuipulotu of the Blues.
For several years, Whitelock has been one of the premier performers not just in Super Rugby, but on the world stage and Test level. His power, physicality, work-ethic and set-piece nous is outstanding.
Since the start of Super Rugby Aotearoa, Blues skipper Tuipulotu’s performances seem to have gone to a different level. The lock has been in sensational form and is a vital leader in Blues ranks.
Whomever of Whitelock or Tuipulotu – both the demonstrable pack leaders of their respective sides – can marshal their forwards the better and get the lineout functioning the slicker, will almost certainly be on the winning side.
Joe Moody vs Ofa Tuungafasi
As is so often the case in rugby, the scrum will be a vital component to Saturday’s encounter.
As was proved in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa, you simply cannot win a game of rugby without a competing scrum.
The Crusaders pack has been around the block and has dominated on a near-regular basis. The Blues meanwhile, have struggled enormously in this facet in recent years.
That has not been the case in 2020, however, and certainly not during Super Rugby Aotearoa.
The critical match-up on Saturday will be experienced Crusaders loosehead Moody up against Blues tighthead Tuungafasi. If one can gain an edge, the game will likely swing in their side’s favour.