Super Rugby power rankings: The Blues finally get a craved opportunity to beat the Crusaders

The Crusaders and Blues are set for a heavyweight clash in Christchurch on Friday night.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

The Crusaders and Blues are set for a heavyweight clash in Christchurch on Friday night.

Robert van Royen is also a Stuff sports journalist

OPINION: Here it is, the chance the Blues have been craving to prove they are the real deal in a fully-fledged competition.

Should they beat the Crusaders in Christchurch for the first time since 2004 on Friday night, there should be no doubt they are more than just a side capable of winning a flawed trans-Tasman competition.

To think Blues pivot Beauden Barrett, who will face fellow All Black Richie Mo’unga in a tasty match-up, was just 12 the last time the Auckland-based side won in the Garden City, or that it’s been eight years since their last win in the head-to-head stakes.

The last time the Blues had the chance to make a statement against the red and blacks, they were badly beaten – 29-6 – in Christchurch last year.

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That made it 14 straight wins for the Crusaders over the Blues, and 29-11 overall. No wonder the Blues have had enough.

Here’s their opportunity to draw a line in the sand in their final regular season match against a Kiwi foe, one which again tops Stuff’s power rankings.

Crusaders wing George Bridge scores against the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend.

Masanori Udagawa / Getty Images

Crusaders wing George Bridge scores against the Hurricanes in Wellington last weekend.

1. CRUSADERS (6-1) PREVIOUS RANK: 1

Championships aren’t won by playing your best rugby of the season in the middle of the regular season. The Crusaders know that better than anyone.

Just as well, for their sake, as they certainly aren’t playing at the level they’re capable of, something they will have to amend with the Blues coming to town.

On another note, will lock Sam Whitelock (finger) return ahead of schedule in the wake of Quinten Strange (knee) joining Mitchell Dunshea on the sideline with a serious injury?

Blues lock Luke Romano will front against his old side in Christchurch on Friday night.

John Cowpland / Photosport

Blues lock Luke Romano will front against his old side in Christchurch on Friday night.

2. BLUES (6-1) PREVIOUS RANK: 3

It will be fascinating to see how Blues lock Luke Romano approaches his return to Christchurch to face the team he played 136 games for between 2011-2021.

Despite barely being utilized last year – he played twice off the bench – it’s understood Romano was unhappy not to receive another contract from the red and blacks, who opted to invest in a young lock Zach Gallagher.

3. REDS (6-1) PREVIOUS RANK: 4

Banged up in recent weeks, their bye week came at just the right time. Now, Brad Thorn’s troops can prepare for the Kiwi sides by facing off against the Rebels in Melbourne.

CHRIS MCKEEN / STUFF

NZR chief executive Mark Robinson and panel members Phillipa Muir and Tammi Wilson Uluinayau address a press conference into the team’s culture review.

4. BRUMBIES (7-1) PREVIOUS RANK: 5

Nobody could begrudge the Brumbies for having a bye week ahead of their clash against the Highlanders in Melbourne next week, not after they were forced to face the Crusaders in Christchurch the week after the all-Aussie Super Rugby final a year ago.

Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown is done for the season after hurting his shoulder against the Blues last weekend.

Michael Bradley / Getty Images

Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown is done for the season after hurting his shoulder against the Blues last weekend.

5. CHIEFS (4-3) PREVIOUS RANK: 2

If being held scoreless for the first time in history didn’t sting enough, the Chiefs also lost All Blacks midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown for the rest of the season after he hurt his shoulder during the 25-0 defeat to the Blues.

6. WARATAHS (4-3) PREVIOUS RANK: 6

With much stiffer tests approaching, the Waratahs shouldn’t need told how important Saturday’s clash with the Force in Perth is.

A 5-3 record ahead of the Kiwi clashes would make life a heck of a lot easier down the stretch as they pursue a top-eight finish.

The Hurricanes came up agonizingly short against the Crusaders last week in Wellington.

Hagen Hopkins / Getty Images

The Hurricanes came up agonizingly short against the Crusaders last week in Wellington.

7. HURRICANES (2-4) PREVIOUS RANK: 7

Head coach Jason Holland made a good point when defending his team’s decision to turn down the sticks and attempt to beat the Crusaders in regulation.

His argument was teams generally only get one chance to win in the golden point, and they could well have lost the coin toss and found themselves on the losing end in a sudden-death time as a result. That’s what happened in the corresponding fixture last year.

8. REBELS (2-5) PREVIOUS RANK: 12

Kudos to the Rebels. After all, winning in Perth is never easy.

So lousy earlier in the competition, they suddenly look far from the worst team in Super Rugby after their 22-21 win.

Highlanders flanker Shannon Frizell is out for eight weeks after hurting his knee against Moana Pasifika in Dunedin last weekend.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

Highlanders flanker Shannon Frizell is out for eight weeks after hurting his knee against Moana Pasifika in Dunedin last weekend.

9. HIGHLANDERS (1-6) PREVIOUS RANK: 10

They’re finally off the mark, but their 37-17 win over Moana Pasifika came at a huge cost in the form of serious knee injuries to flanker Shannon Frizell and lock Manaaki Selby-Rickit.

Both are out for eight weeks with MCL injuries, meaning Tony Brown’s men will need to go deep into the playoffs if they’re a chance to play again this season.

Set piece issues have plagued the Moana Pacific during their first season in Super Rugby.

Kai Schwoerer / Getty Images

Set piece issues have plagued the Moana Pacific during their first season in Super Rugby.

10. MOANA PASIFIKA (1-5) PREVIOUS RANK: 9

It sure is hard on the eyes watching opponents uncork lineout drive after lineout drive against the newbies, but the reality is it’s going to keep happening due to their inability to stop it.

Head coach Aaron Mauger sounds like a broken record going on about needing to improve their discipline. It’s time the players took action.

11. WESTERN FORCE (2-5) PREVIOUS RANK: 8

A year after giving a few Kiwi sides a good run for their money, the Force are quickly becoming the most disappointing team in the competition.

Their 22-21 loss to the Melbourne Rebels at home was their fourth defeat by six or fewer points, and their second straight one-point defeat, this season.

12. FIJIAN DRUA (1-7) PREVIOUS RANK: 11

Their lack of improvement against the Aussies is a huge concern ahead of what lies ahead.

Following their bye this weekend, they kickoff a stretch of games against NZ-based teams by facing the Blues in Melbourne on Saturday week.

Gulp.

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