Crusaders welcome rest before home semifinal
Ensuring the fire doesn't go out of the Crusaders' game could be the biggest issue for Todd Blackadder over the next 12 days.
Securing second place on the Super Rugby log guarantees the Crusaders an extra week to prepare for their home semifinal on July 25-26 and how Blackadder manages this tricky period could determine whether they progress to their first grand final since their 18-13 defeat to the Reds, in Brisbane, in 2011.
While the extra week gives Richie McCaw time to ensure his fractured rib is healed, and allows regular starters such as Nemani Nadolo, Sam Whitelock and Ryan Crotty time to refresh, the break also means the Crusaders could lose the momentum gained from recent wins over the Highlanders and the Blues.
Yesterday Blackadder met with his management crew to plan the week ahead and while players like strike wing Nadolo, who has carried a massive workload over the last two months will be given extra time to rest, most of the squad will report to the Rugby Park training base.
Any worries the players could lose their battle-hardened attitude should be offset by the rare opportunity to rehabilitate their bodies before hosting their first semi in Christchurch since the competition expanded to 15 teams in 2011.
"Not at all, we have no concerns," Blackadder said when asked if he was worried his men might go off the boil.
"The guys have played a lot of football and how we manage this week is going to be very important. Some guys are going to freshen-up and we are going to focus on some areas of our game we need to improve on."
Nadolo, who scored a try but lacked the zip of the previous weekend's win over the Blues, was replaced in the second half of Saturday night's 34-8 victory over the Highlanders at AMI Stadium because of a tight calf.
Blackadder said substituting Nadolo was a precautionary move.
"Nemani will have a few days off, he needs a well deserved break. He has played a lot of minutes, for us and Fiji, and needs to freshen. The big fellow has been a bit fatigued for the last couple of weeks and we just want to make sure he is well managed."
The delicate balancing act of ensuring his men don't slip out of high gear means Blackadder will stage his heaviest training sessions later in the week.
Saturday night's 34-8 win over the Highlanders at AMI Stadium was one of the Crusaders best performances of the year; the forwards' aggressive display was relentless in the set pieces and they reaped three tries from driving mauls.
The win ensured they collected a valuable four-try bonus point, allowing them to finish ahead of the Sharks who couldn't secure a bonus point from their win over the Stormers in Cape Town yesterday morning.
Now the Crusaders can sit back and watch the qualifying finals in Canberra and Durban this weekend.
Blackadder doesn't have any preference as to who they will meet in their semi and will resist the temptation to prepare for potential opponents by sitting the squad down to analyse each team before the weekend.
"Mentally, for this week, it's important we get our own house in order rather than focus on all the possibilities.
"It's a long time between now and then. We need to make sure all our individuals get what they need and what they need to focus on. There's no need to start preparing for who we may be meeting just yet."