Sione Havili Talitui has impressed throughout her 2021 campaign. Photo / Getty Images
For the first time in their Transtasman campaign, the Crusaders were able to appoint the same person to openside flanker two weeks in a row.
Starting the season with Tom Sanders in jersey no.7, young star Ethan Blackadder was called up in the second round. He was then injured and Sione Havili Talitui got his shot last weekend.
After a damaging performance with the ball in hand and in the contact zones, Talitui will once again don the No.7 shirt when the team meet the Force in Christchurch on Friday night.
While the option of staying with the same player at the post may seem like a minor luxury, after the recent spate of injuries in the squad, it’s a welcome relief as the squad try to put themselves in a position to challenge a another title in the next few weeks.
The Crusaders are looking for a place in the final, one point behind the Blues and Hurricanes in the standings. A bonus points win over the Force on Friday night will give them the opportunity to put pressure on the two teams above them before they return home.
Throughout the season, New Zealand’s teams have been way above their Australian counterparts, winning 14 of 15 games in the opening three rounds. The Reds are the only Australian team to achieve a victory, having beaten the Chiefs last weekend.
While the results may not show it, Talitui said the competition has been good as it gave players the opportunity to work out a different style of play.
“Australia plays a different kind of rugby than New Zealand,” said Talitui. “New Zealand rugby, when we play against New Zealand teams, it’s a lot more difficult than playing against Australian teams. However, you can’t turn off when you play against Australian teams. It has happened. to the Chiefs last week.
“I think their strengths are in the way they play; with their form which is not the same as us here in New Zealand. They are more side to side, they give a lot of punches compared to us. Crusaders, we do everything; we kick, we run, go side by side, but it’s different in the way they play. “
The Force has been a random outfit throughout the Transtasman campaign to date. After missing a shot on goal in winning their first game against the Chiefs, they were unable to come back against the Highlanders in the second round. The last time they were demolished by the Hurricanes in Napier.
However, Talitui said the Crusaders expected a battle up front, with the Force possessing a massive pack. He also noted the presence of former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrust in Force roster, and said they should be careful with the 36-year-old veteran.
“He’s old, he’s got a lot of experience, and he’ll be finicky in the ruck, so we have to watch him.”
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, David Havili, Leicester Fainga’anuku, Fergus Burke, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Dunshea, Scott Barrett, Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Tamaiti Williams.
Reserves: Nathan Vella, Isileli Tu’ungafasi, Oliver Jager, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Dallas McLeod, Josh McKay.