Brian Ashby: Sub-plots tasty backdrop to mouth-watering showdown

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Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Mic Check versus the Silver Fox. The sub-plots in finals week are almost as interesting as the Big Show. The volatile Michael Cheika versus the understated Todd Blackadder.

The fact that the two sides never met in the round robin adds to the intrigue. But then given the proposed changes for 2016 and beyond, that potentially won't be such an unusual scenario.

Home comforts will be a big deal to Cheika. Post-match at the Tahs last visit to Christchurch was a memorable occasion. He hated it. He hated everything. First and foremost he hated losing. There was only one point in it. He hated referee Glen Jackson. In fact if the TV cameras had been present at the post-match interviews, it's a dead-set certainty his comments would have landed him some fairly heavy sanctions from Sanzar.

He hated the crowd although, let's be honest, he wouldn't be the first to not like Christchurch fans. His allegations of having a plastic bottle thrown at him as he walked down from the coaches' box through the stand were bizarre.

A stand full of people, but not one witness.

For all that, he's a great character who wears his heart on his sleeve. So long was his rant after the 2013 encounter, I'm sure if he didn't have a plane to Sydney to catch, he probably would've had a crack at MMP and our anti-nuclear policies as well.

His eccentric ways should take the heat off his players. The Waratahs have the perfect balance in their management team with the much quieter and deep-thinking Daryl Gibson working as his assistant. Having been cast adrift by the Crusaders two years ago, Gibson will be loving this week.

Another plus for the Waratahs -- Cheika knows how to win. He did it with Leinster in the Heineken Cup.

The Crusaders haven't been able to close out Super Rugby since their 2008 final win, something that coach Todd Blackadder is acutely aware of. Two finals and a 100 per cent playoff strike rate won't cut it with the former All Black captain. The increasingly impatient fans will struggle to deal with another loss too.

As the countdown continues, one stat that the nervous Crusaders fans can take comfort in is that they have won their last 11 clashes with the Waratahs.

Despite their title drought, they go into the final in a much healthier historical state than the well performed Sydneysiders.

Given the playing numbers in New South Wales, the Waratahs rank as the ultimate Super Rugby under-achievers. But given the brand of rugby they've played in 2014, this side is good enough to secure their maiden title.

The flip side: the Crusaders have rediscovered their mojo.

Here comes a classic.

Brian Ashby is a NewstalkZB commentator and sports journalist.

- NZ Herald

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