Marshall: Crusaders should have edge on Chiefs

JUSTIN MARSHALL
Last updated 05:00 22/07/2013
Crusaders
IAIN McGREGOR/Fairfax NZ
TIMING IT BEST: The Crusaders have timed their run well this year, while the Chiefs are yet to prove they can defend their title.

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OPINION: It's a pity there's now no prospect of an all-New Zealand Super Rugby final but there's no doubt in my mind that the Crusaders will be happier to be travelling to Hamilton this weekend and not Pretoria.

If the Crusaders can overcome the Chiefs - and I think they will - I am certain they are capable of travelling to South Africa and winning the whole competition.

From what I saw last night of the Brumbies, I don't like the chances of Jake White's side in Pretoria. The Bulls are hot favourites for that semi, in my view.

Which means if the Chiefs win, we have a Hamilton final for the second straight year. If not, Todd Blackadder's men will need to travel to the republic.

I am sure Todd would prefer to be going to South Africa for the title decider, rather than having to fly there this week and then back up in a final.

The Chiefs-Crusaders clash will be colossal.

People will accuse me of favouring the Crusaders for sentimental reasons.

They're wrong there.

The last few years when the Crusaders have reached the play-offs, they have not necessarily looked the real deal and their early demise has sometimes not surprised some observers.

It's different this season. They are timing their run more astutely.

Ok, they weren't brilliant against the Hurricanes last weekend but on Saturday night they were once again all business.

There is a rhythm about the Crusaders that is intimidating.

On defence and in attack, there is purposeful intent. The level of energy across the park is palatably higher than earlier this season.

They are particularly dominant in the loose and there is a balance in the backline across the Dan Carter-Tom Taylor-Ryan Crotty axis that is fast proving irresistible.

Such is the embarrassment of riches that coach Blackadder has a dilemma this weekend over whether to start Richie McCaw or not. Matt Todd is in such commanding form, how could you leave him out?

Conversely, while the Chiefs remain impeccably coached, there is a feeling they are not quite the all-dominant force of 2012.

They continue to prove their pedigree and self-belief by winning the tight games and they have a superb culture.

But I think the absence of Sonny Bill Williams this season has hurt the Chiefs' X-factor.

Having said that, the Crusaders' clinical dismantling of the Chiefs a fortnight ago is irrelevant in the context of this semi.

This is knockout winner-takes-all rugby we're into now.

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The Chiefs will also benefit from the week off and a tight game is on the cards. But I still see the Crusaders winning narrowly.

Despite the Brumbies doing the same against the Cheetahs last night, the Australian sides have been underwhelming this year.

I thought the Reds were lucky to make the play-offs. They've been hit and miss all year, and the Brumbies hardly looked the well-oilded machine of earlier in the season. I can't see them going to Pretoria and winning on the form of last night.

- The Press

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