Keven Mealamu hits 150 mark for the Blues
Maybe it's the occasion, maybe it's the sky-high stakes, but Keven Mealamu senses something special brewing in his 150th Super Rugby appearance for the Blues in Christchurch tomorrow night.
Mealamu will become the first player to rack up the ton and a half for the Auckland franchise when he runs out in a pivotal match for both sides. The Blues must win to have any chance of making the playoffs; the Crusaders have a little more rope to play with, but are just one loss away from being wedged between a rock and a hard place as they look to keep alive a post-season streak stretching back to 2002.
For the 35-year-old All Black hooker, it's a fitting way to celebrate his milestone - his 160 Super Rugby appearances in total (including a campaign with the Chiefs) have him just two shy of Nathan Sharpe's competition record.
"It's a really special moment and means a lot to me," Mealamu said yesterday. "It's a special franchise I grew up watching. I always wanted to play for the Blues, and have put a lot of hard work into this jersey. I just want to do the same on Saturday."
It's appropriate, too, that Mealamu's milestone comes against the Crusaders, arguably the Blues' greatest rivals and the standard-setters in this competition.
"I've had quite a few big games with them over the years, and have got a few mates playing on that side," he said. "It's the same as always when you cross that line - we're at work for 80 minutes.
"We're expecting to see them at their best, and we have to honour that by going down and making sure we're at our best too."
Last Saturday in Perth the Blues were close to their best as they claimed their first road victory (40-14) in nearly two full seasons to remove what coach John Kirwan called the "first" monkey off their back. The second simian passenger remains in the form of the Crusaders in Christchurch - where the Blues haven't won since 2004.
"It's about bringing that same energy we took to Perth," Mealamu said. "We're starting to find some good form. We were able to piggyback off our last home game against the Hurricanes and take that form on the road. Why can't we do it down in Canterbury as well?"
In a way life on the sudden-death tightrope has brought the best out of these Blues. Their All Blacks are firing, Steven Luatua has re-ignited his season and Charles Piutau is back in the mix after six weeks out with a knee injury. In Jerome Kaino and Ma'a Nonu they also have two of the most destructive men in the Kiwi game.
"We've got nothing to lose," Mealamu said. "We're going to die trying so we'll leave everything out there. That's the mentality we took to Perth and we want take it down there because there's no next week if we don't take care of business."
Of course trampling the Force on a dry Perth track is one thing; grinding it out in wintry Christchurch against a Crusaders side with Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg back in the saddle is another.
"If we're able to take the things we do well at home on the road, and keep believing, we can be a pretty special side. We've beaten some good sides at home; if we take that on the road, man, watch out."