Crusaders can cope with pressure, says Franks
There's a landmine planted at AMI Stadium and it's got the Blues logo painted on it.
If the Crusaders lose tonight's match their Super Rugby title aspirations will suffer a fearful hit, potentially forcing them into a situation where they must beat the Highlanders to qualify for the finals.
Tighthead prop Owen Franks doesn't know what it's like to miss the playoffs - he has been involved in each of the Crusaders campaigns since 2009.
He knows this is no time for messing around and acknowledges that last weekend's lethargic effort against the Hurricanes, which resulted in a 16-9 loss, can't be repeated.
"Considering how disappointed everyone was in their performances, I struggle to see how anyone won't be up for this," Franks said.
"This is a home game and we know how much this means in terms of playoffs. It's in our own hands."
Coach Todd Blackadder has taken no chances, rolling-out the heavy artillery by starting Israel Dagg, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Kieran Read and Franks.
While the backline missed wing Nadolo's line busts in Wellington, and their tacticians kicked erratically, the major problem was not the absence of their internationals but the lack of zip of players who needed to take more responsibility.
After the defeat there were questions as to why Franks didn't start ahead of Nepo Laulala but after three tests against England, Blackadder wanted to freshen the All Black's legs.
"I had no beef with the coaches," Franks said. "I was a bit buggered but the hardest thing was going from one camp and straight into another and trying to get on the same page as the rest of the team."
Tonight's duel between Franks and All Blacks team-mate Tony Woodcock will not just have members of the front row society craning forward in their chairs.
How referee Glen Jackson and his assistants manage the scrums may have a major bearing on how this match flows and Franks is wary of the visitors' all-international front row of Charlie Faumuina, Keven Mealamu and Woodcock.
If the MetService reports are realised both sides are going to get drenched by southerly showers, expansive game plans will be ignored and kicking for position will be key.
The Crusaders' strength lies in being able to utilise the kicking games of Colin Slade, Carter and Dagg, providing they are accurate, to push the ball back inside the Blues' half and if captain and No 8 Kieran Read is back to full confidence after recent concussion issues he can be a vital contributor with his ball carrying.
Direct running at Blues first five-eighth Ihaia West is expected.
An opening four-try blitz ensured that the Blues ripped apart the Force in Perth last weekend, but that was on a hard, dry track; their lethal runners Lolagi Visinia, Frank Halai, Ma'a Nonu and Charles Piutau will have been told by coach John Kirwan that mid-winter Christchurch is no place to get fancy.
The Crusaders have been an angry bunch this week after some blunt messages were delivered following the meltdown in Wellington.
"It wasn't so much of a yelling session and getting down on everyone, rather the coaches said what needed to be said and we're looking forward to this game and getting a result," Franks said.
"It's just nailing the moments that really count, the high-pressure plays and being really consistent. Just everyone playing their top game on the day, especially if it comes to finals time."
- The Press
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