Crusaders to freshen up for Super Rugby finals
The Crusaders are suddenly in the unfamiliar situation of having an extra week to prepare for the Super Rugby playoffs but that won't mean Todd Blackadder will give his players an extended rest.
Although the Sharks beat the Stormers 34-10 in Cape Town this morning they were unable to overtake the Crusaders, who remained second overall after downing the Highlanders 34-8 in Christchurch last night, on the competition log because they didn't grab a four-try bonus point.
Like the Crusaders, the Waratahs, who are the minor premiers, have a bye this week and will host a semifinal in Sydney on July 25-26.
Next weekend's qualifying finals will see the Sharks host the Highlanders in Durban and the Brumbies meet the Chiefs in Canberra.
Not since the competition was extended to 15 teams in 2011 have the Crusaders qualified for a home semifinal.
Blackadder is welcoming the extra time to rest his beaten-up players but said it will still be business as usual for much of the week.
''We will still have our basic structure. It's not a week off for us. Some guys have had a huge workload so we will take some of that off them and freshen them up. We'll probably train later in the week so it's quite hard and that it simulates a Super Rugby game.''
The break will allow Blackadder to freshen players such as lock Sam Whitelock and props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks. Richie McCaw, who hasn't played since the All Blacks faced England in the third test on June 21, will have fully recovered from his fractured rib.
In previous seasons the Crusaders have always had to play qualifying finals and although they have always cruised through them unchecked that extra week's workload has taken its toll in the semifinals and final.
They lost the last two semis to the Chiefs in Hamilton and the final to the Reds in 2011.
''It just gives us a chance to freshen-up to get aligned on what we what want to achieve and a game plan,'' Blackadder added. ''We will make the best use of the time available to us. We will be ready to go.''
The Highlanders had made contingency plans prior to last night's match and coach Jamie Joseph said they will not return to Dunedin. Instead they plan to fly to Sydney and expect to stay overnight there before catching a flight to South Africa tomorrow morning.
Capturing a four-try bonus point proved crucial to the Crusaders finishing second on the log but Blackadder said he was still pleased with the way captain Kieran Read ordered Dan Carter to kick four early penalties to give his side a 12-3 lead.
In the final minutes of the first half Read then ordered Colin Slade to kick for touch following a penalty and the Crusaders' No 7 Matt Todd scored a crucial try from the subsequent lineout drive and they led 17-3 at halftime.
''I was rapt with the way we went into the game, we kept taking the points on offer. We didn't kick it to the corners too early and try and force the game. We just built pressure.
''You need confidence going into finals football and if anything we have scraped our way in [into the playoffs) in the past. We have got a fit squad that is determined to do something. The bubble and squeak is there, so we are ready to go. And we can be better than the way we played tonight.''