A tough game last weekend has made the Melbourne Rebels far more wary of their upcoming opponents this season, despite where they're positioned on the ladder. This weekend they host another team desperate for a win -- the Crusaders.
Any team missing All Black legends Richie McCaw and Dan Carter is going to be significantly weakened, and that's how it's been this season with the 'Saders not having the best start, managing only one victory from their first three games -- a tough one-point win against the Stormers last weekend. The victory didn't come easy, with the both sides doing very well defensively and not giving up much to their opponents, but neither side was able to develop anything spectacular in attack either. Just the one try was scored last weekend by the Crusaders, and it came from substitute Kieron Fonotia with ten minutes left. The winning points came from a Tom Taylor penalty goal in the last five minutes.
In the first game of the season the Crusaders went down to current Super Rugby champions, the Chiefs, 18-10 in Canterbury. This performance was followed by high scoring 35-24 loss to the Blues at Eden Park. It was a disappointing result for them, considering they scored two tries in half an hour and were up 17-3 by the 31st minute. They then went on to concede four tries in the space of ten minutes (either side of half time) and never looked in it afterwards. This performance is obviously what sparked a more defensive approach to the game against the Stormers last week.
One of only three teams in the competition not to have a bonus point to their name, the Crusaders -- despite the fact they sit in second last on the table -- only have a -18 points difference, which is almost ten points less than the teams around them. This evidently goes to show their defensive strategies last week somewhat successful, but this alone is still not reliable enough to get them a victory.
The attacking side of their game needs a lot of work. Their best running player this season has been Israel Dagg, who has 26 runs to his name (13th overall in the competition) for 116 metres. Although he started game on the bench, these figures are still quite low for someone who is the starting fullback for the All Blacks and has even spent time on the wing this season.
Only four tries have been scored by them this season, with Colin Slade and Ryan Crotty the only two backs to do so. The others have come from Corey Flynn (hooker) and Sam Whitelock (lock).
A balance between attack and defence is going to be the name of the game this week, but either way, they're going to need to be careful not to slip up in any area of the field, as they have looked quite vulnerable this season.
How will Melbourne go against the Crusaders? Will they be able to capitalise on their low-scoring capacity this season, or are the Rebels still flat from last week?