Corey Flynn gets nod at No 2 for Sharks clash
Todd Blackadder knows romantic selections don't win titles.
So it's not surprising that when the Crusaders coach was asked if his decision to start Corey Flynn against the Sharks was for sentimental reasons - it will be the hooker's 150th match and potentially the last time he will play in New Zealand before joining French club Toulouse - he issued an emphatic denial.
Given Ben Funnell had started the Crusaders' previous two Super Rugby fixtures against the Highlanders and the Blues, Blackadder had good reason to retain him in his front row alongside All Blacks props Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks for tomorrow night's semifinal at AMI Stadium.
Instead, Blackadder opted for the vast experience of Flynn, a Crusader since 2003 and someone who knows about dealing with the pressures of finals football, as the side tries to push past the semifinal stage for the first time since 2011 and grasp its first title since 2008.
When Blackadder and scrum coach Dave Hewett discussed the compilation of their forward pack they would have struggled to forget the sight of the Sharks scrum ripping apart the Highlanders during last weekend's qualifying final in Durban; it's likely that tipped the scales in the favour of ex-All Black Flynn, who has earned 126 more Super Rugby caps than Funnell.
"Absolutely, just through Flynnie's experience, just his scrummaging knowledge," Blackadder said when explaining the selection.
"He's been there 150 times. We just felt with the pressure, and the Sharks being quite good at the scrum, that his experience would count there."
There should be no chance of Flynn being intimidated by Springboks hooker Bismarck du Plessis in the set pieces and Blackadder will demand his veteran rake organises his fellow forwards if the Sharks assemble their clinical lineout drives.
"Yeah it's a big moment for him, playing 150 games," Blackadder added. "He's pretty motivated to perform well but we just see Ben's impact from the bench being slightly different to Flynnie's, so it is horses for courses. The reality is they will probably both get the same amount of game time."
The rugged du Plessis is not one to enter debates during matches and Flynn said he won't bother trying to needle him with any verbal jabs before the scrums.
"He's very serious. It's a different kettle of fish in terms of that sort of stuff but off the field he is more than happy to have a yarn," Flynn said. "Against a quality front row like that, if you start throwing out some chip you are likely to get your head stuck in your butt.
"In terms of overall game he is pretty complete. He is fantastic player and that's the reason he has been among the top hookers in the world."
Blackadder's only other change to the side that beat the Highlanders 34-8 in their last match a fortnight ago is the return of Richie McCaw. He starts at blindside flanker to allow specialist Matt Todd to remain at openside flanker.
Leaving Dan Carter at second five-eighth, instead of allowing him to return to his preferred first-five spot, means Blackadder has elected to play two of the All Blacks' most influential players out of position.
"The Crusaders are different to internationals," Blackadder stated. "I'm sure if the All Blacks were selecting the team they would probably have those guys in different jerseys but the best thing for us is they are in a six and 12 jersey and they will do their job and aren't fazed by it all."
AT A GLANCE
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Richie McCaw, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl