Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Bring on clash of champions

Crusaders have the momentum but history demonstrates Chiefs can turn it around at Super 15 showdown

The swagger has come from the Crusaders, the stagger from the Chiefs.

Rugby psychoanalysts will leap on that as a pointer to their Super 15 showdown on Saturday while those with rational rugby memories will deliver examples where form is deceptive.

The Chiefs qualified top in pool play but have struggled since the June test break while the Crusaders purred through their programme including victory against the Chiefs and then destroyed the Reds last week.

Momentum is with the Crusaders, however history is with the Chiefs as they and their supporters buckle up for this dynasty-defining clash.

The Chiefs have carried a yen all season to show their 2012 title win was no fluke while the Crusaders, for all their core of big-name players, have not won the big dance since 2008.

They were edged out by the Chiefs last year in one semifinal, lost the final in 2011 and semifinal matches in 2010 and 2009.

Cynics will suggest the Crusaders know how to lose and the Chiefs have learned to win, while the dispassionate will look for a great contest and diehard fans will not be swayed from their allegiance.

Research shows the top qualifiers have gone on to win four of the last five Super rugby titles.

All those theories go into the melting pot of conjecture as time counts down towards the duel between the best New Zealand sides at Hamilton on Saturday.

Among the keen students will be the All Black selectors, who will then inspect the medical reports and their notes before naming a wider training group to train next week at North Harbour Stadium.

Once that and the Super 15 is done they will name a group of 28 players and three extras to prepare for the six Rugby Championship tests with the Wallabies, Springboks and Argentina.

In late May, the Chiefs edged past the Crusaders 28-19 at home before being well beaten 43-15 this month in Christchurch.

The Chiefs have had three weeks to ponder that and their response while the Crusaders have marched on.

The sides will be revealed today with the Chiefs likely to start five of the All Black squad in June and the Crusaders probably eight of that group, including six in their pack.

Two former All Blacks who missed that June cut loom as key figures for this contest.

Hookers Corey Flynn and Hika Elliot will set the tone for their packs with their set-piece contributions.

The Crusaders have been able to unpick opposition lineouts and squeeze their scrums and in both areas the hookers will be key for the outcomes.

If they wobble, they and their packs will be put under more heat.

Both have fallen off the All Black lists but Flynn, at 32, has some time left in him and with his massive experience and physical approach may still sniff one final World Cup chance in 2015.

- NZ Herald

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