Time for Crusaders star Richie Mo’unga to shine as injuries hit Brumbies’ key players

It was 2009 and the Crusaders arrived in Canberra without several intimidating murderers from the All Blacks machine among them.

The result? An 18-16 loss to the Brumbies. Richie McCaw, Brad Thorn and Leon MacDonald never played due to injury and Dan Carter was on sabbatical in France as the Crusaders, led by Kieran Read, were zapped to death by the Brumbies on their home track.

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The Ground We Won is a documentary about rural Kiwi rugby.

A late try from Mark Gerrard, converted by Wallabies teammate Stirling Mortlock, brought the Crusaders in. Worse was to follow: it was later confirmed that veteran hooker Corey Flynn had broken his arm.

Did the defeat hurt the young crusaders? Sure. However, history proves that it was not in vain: the Crusaders have not suffered a defeat against the Brumbies in the past 13 years.

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So when the Crusaders arrive at GIO Stadium for the Super Rugby Pacific game against the Brumbies on Friday night, they should have the upper hand – psychologically, anyway – over their rivals.

Not only have they won their last 10 games against the Australian side, but the Brumbies will also be without Wallabies first five-rounder Noah Lolesio and running back Rob Valetini through injury.

The danger for the Crusaders, and this message would surely have been relayed to the players by coach Scott Robertson, is that the Brumbies are a unit that does not care about the reputation of New Zealand teams.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson celebrates with loose striker Cullen Grace after the win over the Force in Perth last weekend.

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Crusaders coach Scott Robertson celebrates with loose striker Cullen Grace after the win over the Force in Perth last weekend.

Victories over the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders, in Hamilton, Canberra and Melbourne, prove it.

It’s not like the Crusaders are setting the competition on fire either; Although the Western Force were beaten 53-15 in Perth last weekend, it is essential to keep this result in context.

The Brumbies have won 10 games, the Force have emerged victorious twice.

With just three rounds remaining before the playoffs, the Crusaders could overtake the second-placed Brumbies if they win and set up for a quarter-final and semi-final at home.

If there was ever a time to kick things up a notch and make the combinations click, this is it. It starts with the first five-eighth Richie Mo’unga.

Although his performance against the Force was more than decent, Mo’unga, who was in the stands when the Crusaders were upset by the Waratahs in Sydney the previous weekend, still has a lot to give with his handling of the game and his individual flair.

Robertson’s characteristic enthusiasm was prominent when discussing Mo’unga.

“We know he’s a number 10 in the league. He can play at the highest level,” Robertson said.

“If he makes that boot and puts us in the corners, and puts the pressure on the opposition… Look, his game is moving forward and it’s timely.”

Mo’unga shouldn’t be short of a quality ball to use when flipping through his playbook.

The return of captain and lock Scott Barrett from suspension brings the number of All Blacks in the starting lineup to six, with Argentine Pablo Matera also adding Testing experience to the back row.

Mo’unga also needs help. The second five David Havili should provide that.

Havili’s season reflected the fortunes of the Crusaders. Pretty good, but able to offer more. With the playoffs looming, this performance has to count.

crossed: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Cullen Grace, Ethan Blackadder, Pablo Matera, Sam Whitelock, Scott Barrett (c), Fletcher Newell, Codie Taylor, George Bower. Reservations: Ricky Jackson, Finlay Brewis, Tamaiti Williams, Liam Hallam-Eames, Tom Christie, Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Braydon Ennor, Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Brumbies: Tom Banks, Tom Wright, Len Ikitau, Irae Simone, Andy Muirhead, Rod Iona, Nic White, Pete Samu, Jahrome Brown, Tom Hooper, Caderyn Neville, Darcy Swain, Allan Alaalatoa (c), Lachlan Lonergan, James Slipper. Reservations: Folau Fainga’a, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Luke Reimer, Rory Scott, Ryan Lonergan, Ollie Sapsford.

What: Super Rugby Pacific, Crusaders v Brumbies

Or when: GIO Stadium, Canberra; 9:45 p.m. Friday

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