Crusaders need a show of force, says Slade
Colin Slade realises how easily a Super Rugby stumble can become a death plunge.
Had Patrick Osborne's try not been disallowed in Dunedin last weekend, Slade knows the Crusaders wouldn't be placed third overall and surveying the scenery atop the New Zealand conference table; instead they would be ninth and contemplating two consecutive defeats after conceding to the Sharks a week earlier.
So it's no surprise the 26-year-old accepts if they lose to the Western Force at AMI Stadium tonight the Crusaders could, potentially, be in deep trouble.
"One slip-up and we'll be back down and with our backs against the wall. We have to treat it that way," Slade says. "The reality is we could go far down the table if we slip up in this one.
"Particularly with the break coming up it's a massive opportunity to go away after a win and feel comfortable with where we are sitting as we lead into the rest of the season."
If ever Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder wished he could read his players' minds it must be now.
After three days of working through the play books they hope will bring about England's downfall next month, can his All Blacks lock into the task of wiping out the Force?
Slade, who should be named in the 31-man All Blacks squad on Sunday, was adamant the recent camps in Wellington and Christchurch weren't a distraction.
"We just went up there and learned our stuff and I know I have to focus here on the Crusaders, that's where my priorities lie. Potentially (it could be a distraction) but we have been here before and if you worry about about that sort of stuff your performances can be affected, I suppose.
"I'm really just making sure the Crusaders can get that win so we can go into that June break feeling good about things."
The Crusaders' mental state will possibly be revealed inside the first quarter tonight.
Against the Highlanders they tore into their work like men who had electricity in their veins. Playing in the enclosed Forsyth Barr Stadium encouraged the Crusaders to move the ball - something that wasn't witnessed in the 30-25 defeat to the 14-man Sharks side - and they jumped out to an early lead before Richie McCaw's sin-binning enabled the Highlander to surge back. Slack defence in the second spell almost cost them dearly.
It would be foolish for the Crusaders, who have lost three games at home this season, to take the Force lightly.
Under new coach Michael Foley they have become a legitimate organisation and will have taken a range of valuable lessons from the way the Sharks brought about the Crusaders' downfall.
Foley has furnished the Force into a side who rely on determined defence and take minimal risks when running the ball.
Slade's tactical kicking, along with that of Israel Dagg and Tom Taylor, has been responsible for the Crusaders' rise over the past two months and that won't change.
The predicted frigid weather will add a layer of moisture to the ball and encourage the Crusaders to be more conservative than in Dunedin.
"I think, in general, our kick plan suggests we don't want to give opposition teams too much time or opportunities," Slade said.
"It's just not the kick, it's the chase too. It's a massive focus for us. Although Ben Smith (Highlanders fullback) is a hell of a footballer I thought we shut him down for the most part last week."