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@SuperRugby Waratahs coach Michael Cheika gives his players instructions in training this week.
# Final Countdown
Cheika's Waratahs need to snap 10-year Crusaders streak to claim Super Rugby crown
New Zealand’s Crusaders are aiming for their eighth title since the southern hemisphere’s elite club competition began.

THE NSW WARATAHS are praying for a change of luck while the Canterbury Crusaders cannot believe their good fortune heading into Saturday’s Super 15 final.

It has been 10 years since the Waratahs last beat Super rugby’s glamour side and in their attempt to arrest that long run of losses they have opted not to play at their favourite home ground.

The decision to shift the final from Allianz Stadium, where they Waratahs are unbeaten this year, to the bigger ANZ Stadium has been seized on by the Crusaders as a gift.

“There is no way I would ever give up home advantage to anyone,” Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said. ”I don’t think it will make a difference to them … but for us it is just the psychological aspect. Going to a neutral stadium is just fantastic.”

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has sidestepped talk about venues and an unfavourable history against the Crusaders, saying it was a matter of how his charges performed on Saturday that counted. The former Leinster boss said:

History has tended to lead to the conclusion that we won’t deliver on the day. What we’ve got to do is go out there and up our game, improve from last week in certain areas and see if that’s good enough.”

Both sides have named unchanged line ups for the showdown which, through a quirk of the draw, will be the first time they have faced each other this year, heightening references to historical data for a pointer to the outcome.

- Waratahs show pluck -

While the Crusaders have seven Super titles in their cabinet, and have made the play-offs every year since 2002, the Waratahs have only reached the finals twice — in 2005 and 2008 — and on both occasions faced the Crusaders and lost. In the 2008 final, the last time the Crusaders won the Super crown, the ‘Tahs led 12-3 after 25 minutes before conceding 17 unanswered points to go down 20-12.

But this is not the Waratahs of old as they showed with a lion-hearted defence in their 26-8 win over the ACT Brumbies in the semi-final last week where they refused to bow under pressure and counter-attacked at every opportunity.

It is a side filled with battle-hardened internationals with the skilful Michael Hooper, Stephen Hoiles and Wycliff Palu as a potent loose trio. Halves Nick Phipps and Bernard Foley will guide a talented backline containing Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau. Here is how some of the Crusaders backline are preparing for battle:

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But in the history of Super Rugby, the final has always been won by the side that commands the scrums and lineouts, and here the Crusaders appear to have a defining edge. The set-piece work of their tight five — Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Sam Whitelock and Dominic Bird — has been second to none this season.

They are complemented in the loose by Matt Todd, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read to complete an all All Blacks pack. McCaw, who missed much of the year through injuries, will be at blindside flanker allowing Todd to retain the seven jersey.

Ace fly-half Dan Carter will also be out of position at inside centre with Colin Slade in the number 10 he has worn all year.

 - © AFP, 2014

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