There isn't much to be said about the Crusaders that hasn't already been written over the last 15 or so years, with seven Super Rugby titles, they are quite simply the benchmark that all other Super Rugby franchises strive to replicate.
After a slighlty shaky start to the season, the Crusaders have been in red hot form through the back end of the season, winning ten of their final twelve games including last weeks 38-6 demolition of the Sharks. They are currently high on confidence and to be honest, any team that includes Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read should be a team that believe they can beat anyone.
This season's version of the Crusaders have been playing very attractive and attacking rugby, averaging 28.4 points a game, the second most in the competition, only behind the Waratahs (29.8). Whilst this bodes well for a scintillating grand final clash, punters should be aware that both teams aren't going to throw their defensive structures out the window just to score tries. We're past the point where points for matters the most, it's now all about points against.
Perhaps the biggest difference in this Crusaders team compared to other years is Dan Carter, he took a six month sabbatical at the start of the season and only came back for the back half of the season. He is currently playing at inside centre instead of fly-half, which is held down by Colin Slade. Obviously Dan Carter will have an impact wherever he plays, but the less game management responsibility he has, the better for the Waratahs.
With a strong scrum and defensive line-out, this Crusaders team is made for finals rugby, and the fact that the Waratahs haven't beaten them in 11 years means that this game should be an absolute cracker.
As usual we take a look at five things that could decide the game:
1. The Scrum: The Brumbies tested the Waratahs scrum early and got on top quickly, whilst the Tahs pack fought back later in the game they can't let it happen again. Expect the Crusaders to target it early.
2. Craig Joubert: When he's on, the South African referee is the best official in world rugby, but he has a massive task at hand this week. He's going to need to police the breakdown heavily and be fair with scrummaging. NSW rugby needs a good spectacle.
3. Israel Folau: The Tahs spent so much of last week defending that Folau didn't get a chance to shine. Izzy has shown with the Wallabies that he is a big game player and expect him to have an impact again. His opponent, Israel Dagg can occasionally be prone to defensive lapses, hopefully Folau will capitalise.
4. The Unexpected: The Waratahs and Crusaders haven't played each other this year so far and I think this benefits the Tahs more. Everyone knows what to expect with the Crusaders because they are so good at their style of rugby, but the Tahs are playing in a different style to any other team, hopefully the Crusaders can't adapt to this.
5. You: The crowd played a massive role last week against the Brumbies and you're needed even more this weekend. There will be a big kiwi contingent in the crowd and it's vital that the Tahs feel like that they're at home and the Crusaders feel like they're in a war zone.
My Prediction: Waratahs win 23-21