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

Brumbies' Cadeyrn Neville braces for breakdown battle against Crusaders

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It was 2009 and the Crusaders arrived in Canberra without several intimidating bruisers from the All Blacks machine in their midst.

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

A late try to Mark Gerrard, converted by Wallabies team-mate Stirling Mortlock, did the Crusaders in. Worse was to follow: it was later confirmed veteran hooker Corey Flynn had broken his arm.

Did the loss sting the young Crusaders side? Of course. However, history proves it wasn't in vain: the Crusaders haven't suffered a loss to the Brumbies in the intervening 13 years.

So, when the Crusaders roll into 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, the Brumbies will also be without Wallabies first five-eighth Noah Lolesio and back rower Rob Valetini because of injury.

The danger for the Crusaders, and this message would surely have been drummed into the players by coach Scott Robertson, is that the Brumbies are a unit that doesn't care much about the reputations of the New Zealand teams.

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

It's not as if the Crusaders have been setting the competition on fire, either; although the Western Force were trounced 53-15 in Perth last weekend, it's vital to keep that result in context.

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

With just three rounds remaining until the playoffs, the Crusaders could overtake the second-placed Brumbies if they win and set themselves up for a home quarterfinal and semi.

If ever there was a time to shift up a gear, and to get combinations to click, this is it. That starts with first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga.

While 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 plenty to give with his game management and individual flair.

Robertson's trademark enthusiasm was at the fore when discussing Mo'unga.

"We know he's a championship No 10. He can play at the highest level,'' said Robertson. "He's won a lot of crunch games for us off the back of individual brilliance but also guiding us around.

"If he gets that boot right and puts us into corners, and puts pressure on the opposition … Look, his game is coming along and it's timely.''

Mo'unga shouldn't lack quality ball to use as he flicks through his play book.

The return of captain and lock Scott Barrett from suspension ups the number of All Blacks in the starting pack to six, with Argentinean Pablo Matera also adding test experience to the back row.

Mo'unga needs assistance, also. Second-five David Havili should provide that.

Havili's season has reflected the Crusaders' fortunes. Good enough, but capable of offering more. With the playoffs looming, this performance needs to count.

Crusaders: 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. Reserves: 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. Reserves: Folau Fainga'a, Scott Sio, Tom Ross, Nick Frost, Luke Reimer, Rory Scott, Ryan Lonergan, Ollie Sapsford.

What: Super Rugby Pacific, Crusaders v Brumbies

Where, when: GIO Stadium, Canberra; 9.45pm Friday

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