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Aisle be Back: Hurricanes v Highlanders…and the Crusaders win

  • By Kevin McCarthy

Everyone’s talking about the Hurricanes. I really don’t want to and would advise you not to either. At this stage, the most we should say is that a lower North Island team is faring well at an early point in a long competition. We wish them well.

As some may have noted (hands up those who have turned this into their computer screensaver) at the opposite end of the table were sitting the legendary Crusaders, until now masters of the competition and the byword for excellence.

Before last night’s win against the Chiefs, their current death ride (five straight losses, a negative 51 points diff) was astounding to see. I’d venture of course there aren’t too many feeling sorry for the Southerners, who have been struggling with a rebuilt side and serious injuries.

Assumptions have been that they will at some point find the ripcord and negotiate something approximating a reasonable playoff spot. Perhaps that began last night with a stirring win over the volatile Chiefs.

One thing I am sure is that Christchurch folk now look fondly on the generous structure of SRP – where the playoffs start at eighth, not say, sixth.

Look at 2022, where the Highlanders got through to eighth, with four wins and 7 bonus points. The Force matched them in league points but had an atrocious points diff. 7th spot btw was the Reds, on 35 league points, a huge gulf.

In 2023, the Reds got eighth, beating out the Highlanders – both were on 24 league points – both teams had 5 wins, and the points difference this time favoured the Reds,

Last night’s result means the Crusaders can at least contemplate the rest of the season with hope.

Post-bye weekend, their first three matches are the Waratahs, Force and Rebels – which normally would be speed bumps for a vintage Crusaders team.  And possibly for this version.

The next match is at home to face the Reds, where you’d fancy home advantage may outlast an improving Queensland side.

Next up – the Highlanders in Dunedin and the Brumbies in Canberra. I think maybe they will win one of those; two would be a great result.

Then it’s home against the Blues – and finally Moana Pasifika at home. Let’s be charitable, assume the Blues choke, and that’s two further wins.

So, that would be seven wins out of eight.  If every win was a bonus point win, they’d be looking at 40 league table points. But something like 38 is maybe more realistic.

And what will that buy you, end of comp wise? Based on past years, either sixth for sure, or maybe fifth at a pinch.

I’m pretty sure the horror start has however killed off any chance of hitting fourth or higher – unless they amazingly win every match to come and pick up bonus points in all of them.

So, If the Crusaders do keep rolling this year, it will by playing and winning away at the knockout stage.

And no matter what they might say publicly – the frontrunner teams are going to be paying close attention to where the Crusaders wash up.

They’re just the sort of people to gate-crash your party.

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