Crusaders, Waratahs to meet in pivotal match at Super Rugby Pacific's halfway point

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The New South Wales Waratahs and Christchurch-based Crusaders will meet Friday in a pivotal match in round eight of Super Rugby Pacific which may decide the future course of both team’s seasons.

Both have made poor starts. The defending champion Crusaders lost their first five matches before beating the Hamilton-based Chiefs in round six. The Sydney-based Waratahs started the season with high hopes but also have won only one match and are one place above the Crusaders in 10th place on the table.

Now, at the midpoint of the regular season, both teams need to win almost all of their remaining games to have any chance of featuring prominently in the playoffs.

That won’t be an easy task for the Waratahs, who have a bye after this weekend then face matches against the Chiefs, the Wellington-based Hurricanes and the ACT Brumbies, who all are placed at or near the top of the standings.

The Crusaders’ win over the Chiefs was unexpected amid their worst-ever start to a Super Rugby season. They face an easier path in coming weeks with matches against the Western Force, Melbourne Rebels and Queensland Reds.

The Waratahs task is made harder by the loss of Wallabies prop Angus Bell to a recurring foot injury. Bell is expected to miss the rest of the Super Rugby season and possibly Australia’s mid-year tests.

“The injuries to our props are really starting to hit the squad,” Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said. “Up front we’re struggling.

“There’s no doubt we’re lacking a bit of depth there at the moment. We’ve lost four of our seven contracted props for the season and that’s unheard of, along with our top two hookers in David Porecki and Mahe Vailanu.”

Lock Jed Holloway said the Waratahs players remain determined to turn the season around despite continued setbacks. They take heart from the fact their only win so far came against the Crusaders in round two.

“We understand that we haven’t got off to a good start and we’re definitely feeling the pressure of trying to get wins,” Holloway said. “As players, yeah it weighs on us and it’s something we think about because although we have got a couple of bonus points here and there, you’re not going to get into the eight when you’re not winning.

“We need to start winning and we know it can be a snowball and we can pick up a few wins quickly on the trot.”

The Crusaders will be boosted by the availability for the first time this season of All Blacks backrower Ethan Blackadder, who has been sidelined with a calf injury.

“We all know the quality Ethan brings,” coach Rob Penney said. He’s a “tremendous player who adds a lot of spark around the group.”

In the other match Friday, Queensland plays Moana Pasifika at Whangarei, New Zealand.

The first-place Hurricanes take on the fourth-place Chiefs in the other key match in round eight on Saturday. Also on Saturday in the abbreviated round, the Rebels, who have won four of their last six matches, play the Dunedin, New Zealand-based Highlanders at Melbourne.


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