Palu ready for No 8 battle with Read
Wycliff Palu only needed a glimpse of the Crusaders' clinical dissection of the Sharks to be reminded of Kieran Read's class before they face each other for the first time since 2012 in Saturday's Super Rugby final.
The NSW Waratahs and Wallabies No 8 smiled when asked if he had seen the 38-6 win over the South African conference champions, revealing: "I watched the first five minutes, I think he scored a try when I saw it."
Palu didn't quite have the timeline correct - Read broke the defensive line and rounded behind the posts in the 17th minute at AMI Stadium - but he was on the ball when estimating he had not opposed the current IRB player of the year since the drawn Bledisloe Cup test in Brisbane in October 2012.
Since that 18-18 draw at Suncorp Stadium - an outcome that ended the All Blacks' 16-test winning streak - Palu has been hampered by injuries, including knee damage that ruled him out of last year's Rugby Championship.
Rehabilitation has unfortunately been a regularity for Palu, who turned 32 on Sunday, so since his test debut against England in 2006 he has only played 50 of a possible 112 internationals.
Given that amount of time on the sidelines, Palu could empathise with Read, who had two lay-offs due to concussion before recovering to provide much-needed composure and clarity to the Crusaders' bid for an overdue eighth title.
"He's coming back to real good form now," said Palu, who wasn't surprised.
"I think he's all-round the best. He does all the things a forward should be able to do so he's right up there
"He's one of the keys. When he gets a good roll on, the whole team gets on the back of his go-forward. He's one of many guys we have to look out for."
While Read has missed six games of a Crusaders campaign that has gained traction over the last month, Palu is enjoying a rare injury-free run that has enabled him to feature in 13 of the Waratahs' 17 matches in 2014.
A fit Palu has been an integral ingredient of a season where the underachieving franchise finally appears equipped to join the Brumbies and Reds as Australian Super Rugby champions.
"I've really enjoyed this season," he said, as an understatement, before reflecting on the disappointment of the 2008 final in Christchurch.
The Crusaders won 20-12, not that Palu was overly distressed, at the time.
"I was a bit younger back then. When you play in these finals you always think there's going to be another one just around the corner .... it's been a while now."
Current Waratahs Rob Horne, Kurtley Beale, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson also experienced that defeat but Palu doubted it would be insightful as this squad aims to make amends at Sydney's ANZ Stadium.
His advice to teammates preparing for their first Super Rugby final was to focus on the present, not the past.
"I think you just try not to change really.
"We want to do the same thing we've been doing, we've been going pretty well throughout the season.
"If you start trying to do extra fitness or extra gym work you're going to blow yourself out or play the game too early.
"You have to really enjoy this week and make the most of it."
And regardless of whether the Waratahs are triumphant Palu realises the squad has reinvigorated interest in the code in Sydney after they were booed off the park by fans bemoaning a conservative, kick-centric game plan employed by previous coaches Chris Hickey and Michael Foley.
"Cheik (coach Michael Cheika) talked about it earlier in the year. It all starts with us, I guess the way we play (an expansive brand of rugby) and go about things."