Wing Nemani Nadolo takes Crusaders to top
It is no fluke Nemani Nadolo's arrival in Christchurch has coincided with the Crusaders bursting up the Super Rugby ladder.
A late insertion into the franchise's starting teams because of Japanese club commitments and a minor knee injury, the colossus wing has scored seven tries in nine appearances and now the Crusaders find themselves at the top of the New Zealand conference.
Nadolo scored another try in Saturday night's 32-30 win over the Highlanders in Dunedin but his real value was emphasised by his desire to get involved, whether running near rucks or out wide, and his ability to contest high balls and utilise his deft handling skills.
Following their 30-25 defeat to the 14-man Sharks side, there were fears the Crusaders had the wobbles after an impressive five-match winning streak.
But the bonus-point win over the Highlanders means they now sit third overall and if they overcome the travel-weary Force this Friday night, they will remain in a powerful position ahead of the June test window.
''Every time he got his hands on the ball he had an impact on the game didn't he,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said in reference to Nadolo.
''He just added a different dimension to our attack and I thought he was fantastic.
''The other guys did too, in patches, but not as much as him.
''I thought he was outstanding.''
The 125kg Nadolo wanted to prove a few points against the Highlanders.
He knew his reputation was at stake and enhanced it by repeatedly shaking off defenders, looking to offload and giving the Crusaders some precious go-forward.
''I am always hard on myself and I thought I had a quiet game against the Sharks and didn't contribute enough. I felt I let the boys down and I wanted to really make a difference this week,'' Nadolo said.
''I'm not the quickest of guys but I do have a bit of size about myself and I just use, I guess, my positives and try and work hard.''
It is the sort of attitude Blackadder will be urging for the Force match.
Although the Force's ugly 29-19 win over the Lions was in stark contrast to the highly-entertaining match in Dunedin, the Crusaders would be foolish to be too casual in their preparations.
More of what was seen against the Highlanders would be welcomed: their forwards often drove into the pile-ups like meteors and the performances of props Nepo Laulala and Tim Perry emphasised their front row depth.
The All Blacks wider training camp in Wellington means Blackadder will have his squad for just one full training but this should be countered by No 8 and captain Kieran Read returning from his concussion and, latterly, a head cold.
Midfielder Ryan Crotty, who led the side in Read's absence, collected a knock to the hip against the Highlanders and if it fails to settle, it could place him in doubt.
Under the roof in Dunedin the Crusaders surprised many by attacking more often and, conditions permitting, Blackadder may urge more of this against an Aussie outfit who have played their past two matches in Cape Town and Perth - which has resulted in their coach, Michael Foley, lashing Sanzar for producing such an unfair draw.
Nadolo, 26, may also draw some inspiration from Wednesday night's State of Origin rugby league match.
He will be right in behind the Maroons, he confirmed.
''Of course. I am a Queenslander.
''I'm Brisbane bred and hopefully we will go for number 9 [title] this year. It should be good.''
SUPER RUGBY STANDINGS
What winning margin and team are you tipping for the Super Rugby final?