Mehrtens: Bring the enjoyment to Crusaders

ANDREW MEHRTENS
Last updated 05:00 27/02/2014

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OPINION: The Crusaders have long been renowned for their structure and discipline but after watching their opening game against the Chiefs it might be time for them to throw the playbook out the window.

I can't help but think that what my old team needs is to play with a sense of enjoyment and fun. They were too structured against the Chiefs, too predictable in many ways. Having an inexperienced No 10 probably didn't help, but right through the team they could look at committing those inside guys or reading the situation better.

Partly that's a confidence and communication thing, and I'd expect it to be better this week. With the first game out of the way, they can show a bit more initiative now within the framework of what they're trying to do.

I felt like too much of the Crusaders' attack was pre-determined. That makes it very easy for the defence to read.

The Crusaders would be pretty nervous this week. The Blues would have been shown footage of their second half and told "this is what you can do when you play".

I liked their attitude over the second 40 in Dunedin to have a go and if they tighten their defence they will be tough to roll.

There's a bit of talk about the Blues' struggles at No 10 and this week they give youngster Simon Hickey the chance to stake his claim for the jersey. Hickey has an abundance of talent around him, and if he's smart he'll understand that at times the defence will gravitate towards them.

For now it's pretty clear Benji Marshall is more comfortable playing a position that's not first five. That's not to say he can't be a really good 10 but for now he's better playing where he can be first receiver sometimes and can balance that by using his natural talent wider out.

But he looked energetic when he came on, and I was really impressed by him.

The consistent factor in both New Zealand winners - who meet in Hamilton on Saturday night - was the quality of the defence in terms of knowing when to push up and put the pressure on. That comes down to communication and confidence in your systems.

Both teams also showed an ability to strike from limited opportunities. That's a mental thing - when you've got a defence you believe in, then you're content to wait patiently for that chance to explode.

The Chiefs will take a lot of confidence out of their win in Christchurch. It feels like they've still got a lot in the tank in terms of their attack game.

But the Highlanders will be dangerous this week. They've got nothing to lose, and when they threw everything at the Blues in the first half they went pretty well.

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I've got a small role at the Waratahs where I spend about an hour a week helping their kickers. It's something my old mate Daryl Gibson set up, so it gives me a bit of insight into how they're tracking.

It was good to see them start well against the Force.

- Fairfax Media

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