PRETORIA - Surely, facing the Crusaders in a final must be the most daunting sight in Super Rugby.
As beatable as they are, they come to to face the Lions at Ellis Park on Saturday with a pedigree for winning championships. And they do so with all the members of their match day team.
It is difficult to single out individuals in a team that works for each other and relies heavily on the team success for the individuals to thrive.
However, there are those men who are the glue to the Crusaders with what they bring on the field and also off it as well. There can be no avoiding the importance of leadership and experience in the success of the Crusaders in years gone by and this year where they have only lost one game.
So, it is particularly to the leadership that the Crusaders will look and try to upset the Lions in order to win a record eighth Super Rugby title.
Vital to the Crusaders' success, will be captain Sam Whitelock, veteran No 8 and All Blacks captain Kieran Read, while the cunning and exciting play of Israel Dagg will be crucial in getting the visitor’s over the line.
Strengths: A devastating ball carrier who not only gets over the advantage line with ease but possesses the skill sets usually reserved for those with double figures on their backs. He’s worth his weight amongst the forwards, as he is not scared to do some of the donkey work and is invaluable with his leadership skills and experience.
Weaknesses: A man with over a 100 Tests and Super Rugby caps hardly has any weaknesses and judging by his contribution to the success of franchise and country, those weaknesses are well masked. Keep the ball away from him and the rest of the Crusaders team and it will come as a surprise that he was on the field after 80 minutes.
Strengths: One of the most elegant runners with ball in hand and a deadly finisher, Dagg finds space where there is none and his sudden turn of speed often carves even the best defensive systems. If he is not scoring tries, then Dagg is opening up scoring opportunities. His superior aerial skills make him an even bigger threat once the ball goes up in the air.
Weaknesses: For a player who has played fullback for many years, Dagg doesn’t possess the kicking game that could prove effective in relieving pressure. Send some of the big men from the pack down his way and he could be costly in giving away some valuable real estate.
Strengths: Undoubtedly one of the best locks of his generation, with his all-round skills in the line-out and ability to carry the ball well, Whitelock is a solid player and a very greedy poacher of opposition balls in the set-piece, as well. An extremely abrasive lock who often ventures into the dark corners many fear to tread.
Weaknesses: One wonders, like many other players within the New Zealand rugby landscape, if they can take as much as they give. As competitive as Whitelock is, if confronted with an equally competent adversary, he does look uncomfortable. His famous short fuse is something the opposition will want to exploit.