Crusaders must establish dominance over Canes
It would be timely for the Crusaders to unsheathe some killer blows against the Hurricanes tonight.
Like a heavyweight pugilist lunging to dim an opponent's lights in the final rounds the Crusaders will attempt their own king hit at Christchurch's AMI Stadium.
History proves the tactic has merit. Not since 2001 have they missed the Super finals.
Three regular season rounds remain and after tonight the Crusaders meet the Chiefs (away) and the Western Force (home) before the opening playoff rounds commence on July 20-21.
Recent performances, in which the Crusaders scored 110 points when thrashing the Highlanders and Blues in Christchurch, sparked speculation they were the competition's form team.
Having belted the Canes 42-14 at the Cake Tin on April 21 they should be bullish about their opportunity to collect a vital win tonight.
Yet they're not and neither should they. The June test window for the three-test series against Ireland came at the wrong time for the Crusaders.
Not only has their momentum been stymied, they will be without Dan Carter (hamstring), Kieran Read (concussion) and Israel Dagg (ankle) after they collected injuries with the All Blacks and their combinations will be ring-rusty because of the layoff.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder predicted it was unrealistic to see a repeat of the electric 51-18 performance that blew the Highlanders off their feet on June 1.
"You can't expect to start where we left off," he said. "We've got to earn the ride because you can't just expect it to happen. We've taken a really conservative approach this week and gone through and done the basics really well."
The test window has also had benefits for the non-internationals, allowing them to recover from painful injuries and refresh mentally.
Now Blackadder will be asking his non-All Blacks to shoulder the burden of responsibility. Halfback Andy Ellis is the ideal candidate to instigate this plan.
Ellis can keep the debate about his omission from the All Blacks last month burning with a clinical performance and by taking some of the leadership heat off captain Richie McCaw. Providing first five-eighth Carter's replacement Tom Taylor with snappy service and using his kicking game to pressure the Hurricanes' wings will be noted in his playbook.
Unlike previous encounters, when he had Carter at No12 to provide kicking relief off his left foot, Taylor will need to accept greater responsibility as playmaker.
During their previous encounter the Crusaders successfully negated influence of the Hurricanes' fullback Andre Taylor by launching high balls into his zone and sending a hostile reception party to rough him up.
All Blacks left wing Julian Savea was scratched from that match but the Irish dented his confidence with high kicks and by employing their rushing midfield defence to chop off his possession in the second test in Christchurch. The Crusaders will have taken notes.
CRUSADERS: Wyatt Crockett, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks, Luke Romano, Samuel Whitelock, George Whitelock, Matt Todd, Richie McCaw (c), Andy Ellis (vc), Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Ryan Crotty, Robbie Fruean, Adam Whitelock, Sean Maitland. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Owen Franks, Tom Donnelly/Ross Kennedy, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Patrick Osborne.
HURRICANES: Reg Goodes, Dane Coles, Ben May, Jeremy Thrush, Jason Eaton, Faifili Levave, Jack Lam/Karl Lowe, Brad Shields, Chris Eaton, Beauden Barrett, Julian Savea, Tim Bateman, Conrad Smith (c), Alapati Leiua, Andre Taylor. Reserves: Motu Matu'u, Jeffery Toomaga-Allen, James Broadhurst, Lowe/Mark Reddish, Frae Wilson, Tusi Pisi, Jayden Hayward.