Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Rivals' set-piece a plus for Crusaders

Recent set-piece problems for the Waratahs are judgment day delight for the Crusaders.

Not that they will make any noise about that advantage or any other areas they want to exploit ahead of their sternest Super rugby trial in six years.

The Crusaders carry the mental baggage of being a title-free zone since 2008 as they have entered the playoffs every year under Todd Blackadder's coaching supervision.

For the Tahs, this is foreign territory as their historical records attest. They have been dusting the trophy cabinet for almost 18 seasons with two previous tilts ending in failure, both against the Crusaders.

All week rugby followers will drill down through season statistics, spotlight individuals, revisit stories from yesteryear and hunt down characters and coaches who have been part of franchise folklore since Super rugby started in 1996.

They are all parts of the backdrop to huge occasions like Saturday's showdown at ANZ Stadium at Homebush in Sydney then the opening Bledisloe Cup test at the same venue a fortnight later.

Out of the mass of figures collated by Opta during the season, some have more prominence after recent matches. The Tahs maintained their winning streak against the Reds and Brumbies even though they had plenty of set-piece splutter.

The Crusaders lifted their standards to another level and their lineouts and scrum have been getting more effective as they barged past the Highlanders then Sharks to shoot for the final silverware.

Significantly, they have scored more first-phase tries (25) than any other side in the tournament, a measurement which will put more strain on the Tahs' defence which is the most miserly in the competition.

The Tahs scrum has size but has always been a bit suspect while their lineout has suffered since captain Dave Dennis was lost to a season-ending knee injury.

Both sides will have their last full training hit-out today amid predictions Saturday's crowd at the Craig Joubert-controlled final will approach 55,000.

- NZ Herald

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