You've got to have a go, says No 9 Andy Ellis

KEY MAN: Former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis has been in fine form for the Crusaders this season.
KEY MAN: Former All Blacks halfback Andy Ellis has been in fine form for the Crusaders this season.

Having the courage to shrug off the shackles may be crucial for the Crusaders tonight.

While their forwards must be prepared to grapple with the Sharks pack during the Super Rugby semifinal, it is whether the Crusaders can accurately vary their attack and break-up the South Africans' patterns that could prove the difference at AMI Stadium.

No-one expects anything radical from the Jake White-coached Sharks and that, the Crusaders hope, will prove to be their Achilles heel.

"If you make a team play their B-game it's going to make your day a lot easier," Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson said this week. "Doing that is a lot more difficult than what you put on paper in a plan."

Being too reckless will terminate the Crusaders' chances of advancing to the grand final. But if they are too meek it could mean they have wasted a potentially deadly backline containing Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo and Israel Dagg.

The Crusaders know they cannot allow themselves to get drawn into the sort of trench warfare where they repeatedly attempt to punch their way through the Sharks forwards or punt the ball back down the park.

When Crusaders captain Kieran Read sat down with his coaches he would have made it clear his forwards will want to do much more than just waggle their fists at the Sharks.

But Read also knows his backline has the talent to create chances to score tries. Being unpredictable could be the winning of this and pave the path to their first title since 2008.

"It means we can play different styles depending on defence and conditions," No 8 Read said in reference to the way his team varied its strategies in recent games. "We are happy, hopefully, to play an up-tempo game where we can use our skills and back skills out wide."

Watching the Sharks use their scrum and driving mauls, along with Frans Steyn's goal kicking, to bulldoze the Highlanders out of the playoffs last weekend was like watching a sumo wrestler slowly suffocate a ballerina. It wasn't pretty but the effect was, eventually, devastating.

Although White sprang a minor surprise by naming the talented Patrick Lambie, who is returning from a long lay-off because of injury, at first five-eighth for tonight's match he is still expected to instruct his players to back their set-pieces, defence and kicking game.

Running the pill will be acceptable but not before the Sharks have ground their way into their opponents' half and look capable of exploiting a slack defender or have created extra numbers.

If the Crusaders didn't absorb some valuable lessons from their 30-25 loss to the Sharks in Christchurch on May 17 they may as well surrender before kick-off.

Even with the visitors down a man after flanker Jean Deysel got sent off, the Crusaders kept kicking the ball away rather than exploit their advantage of having an extra man by running the ball back.

"It's semifinals rugby, you have got to play," halfback Andy Ellis reinforced.

"There will be times when we will have to kick it back but there will be times when we will be able to run and get some unstructured play and that's probably the way we want to play."

Nadolo, like his team-mates, never fired when the two sides met in May; at his apex, the Fijian wing is irresistible on attack.

Second five-eighth Dan Carter and playmaker Colin Slade need to help make this happen.

The Press