Resurgent Crusaders on Shark hunt at home

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 17/05/2014
Ryan Crotty
Getty
CRUSADERS CAPTAIN: Ryan Crotty.

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No matter where Ryan Crotty ventures he must field the same question.

What has changed for the Crusaders? Each week the Crusaders' captain's reply, and those of his team-mates, contains a familiar narrative.

After the March 28 loss to the Hurricanes, which left the Crusaders swimming among the Super Rugby table's bottom feeders, the players gathered in a Johannesburg hotel room and plotted a recovery operation.

The air inside that South African room must have smelt of burnt gunpowder because the turnaround has been remarkable; victories over the Lions, Cheetahs, Chiefs, Brumbies and Reds followed and now the Crusaders (31) are just five points behind the chart-topping Sharks.

"Our game plan as well," Crotty added in explanation of the giantkilling sprint.

"Once you have clarity in your game you can start to add all the little things, a little razzle dazzle here and there."

If this winning sequence continues against the Sharks at AMI Stadium tonight it will propel the Crusaders to top-equal of the New Zealand Conference with the Chiefs (who have the bye) on 35 points and in second place overall.

The Sharks, with eight wins from 11 matches, are starting to get the wobbles; losses to the Brumbies and Highlanders in their last three matches are the result of a pop-gun attack that has yielded just three tries in their last five games.

The loss of first five-eighth Patrick Lambie has robbed their backline of some X factor and his replacement, Frans Steyn, more suited to the midfield or fullback, is struggling to find his groove.

Steyn was poor in last weekend's 16-9 loss to the Brumbies and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder won't waste oxygen when reminding Richie McCaw of the need to snap Steyn back on his heels.

Like the Sharks, the Crusaders are devout worshippers of the theory that playing with the ball deep inside your own half is criminal but the home side's ace is that it can punish sides with its alert counter-attack from soft turnovers.

That was seen last week when the Reds' lazy chase of Quade Cooper's sloppy chip kicks allowed the Crusaders to exploit holes and unload in the tackle.

Crotty doesn't expect such easy plums tonight: "I think they will be pretty disciplined in that area."

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