Crusader Colin Slade primed to have big night
Getting ditched from the All Blacks wasn't how Colin Slade wanted to prepare for his first Super Rugby grand final.
He can't do anything about his omission from Steve Hansen's Rugby Championship squad but the first five-eighth could think of better ways to begin what should be one of the most memorable weeks of his career as the Crusaders focus on meeting the Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday night.
The timing might have been terrible but one thing is certain: Slade isn't going to have a whinge about it.
''I had probably prepared myself, a little bit, for it,'' Slade shrugged.
''It's a bit of a numbers game isn't it? You can't take everyone.
''But turning up on Monday and seeing how excited the squad is for this game here, you get over it really quickly. I have got someone really good to focus on this week, which certainly makes it easy to take your mind off it. It's a massive occasion for me.''
Slade lost his place to Dan Carter, who returns from his sabbatical to join Aaron Cruden and Beauden Barrett as Hansen's third first-five. Crusaders team-mates Matt Todd and Ryan Crotty also missed the cut.
During last Saturday night's 38-6 win against the kick-happy Sharks, Slade shifted back to the right wing on several occasions where his ability to take the high ball was utilised to good effect.
''It was a wee plan we had for the Sharks,'' he confirmed.
''Every week we could tinker with that - the Waratahs don't kick too much so I don't think we will be doing that this week.''
The Brumbies' domination of possession and their aggressive defensive line kept the Waratahs' highly respected backline caged for most of last weekend's semifinal in Sydney - especially star fullback Israel Folau who was largely anonymous - and the Crusaders will have taken plenty of notes from that fixture.
While their tactic of repeatedly banging-up high kicks, and then pasting the Sharks player who received the ball, proved a major success last weekend the Crusaders may be reluctant to launch such missiles in Sydney because of Folau's reputation for taking the high ball.
''We have got a few plans but I think we will keep them to ourselves at this stage,'' Slade added.
''He is definitely someone we talked about, he's a powerful weapon for them so we just have to limit those opportunities.
''They [the Sharks and Waratahs] are chalk and cheese, really. We know they [the Waratahs] are going to run it, I don't think they are going to change for the final.''
Given the way they exposed the Sharks' set pieces and repeatedly shook-up their defence by using loose forwards Kieran Read and Todd to carry the ball out wide, or wings Nemani Nadolo and Kieron Fonotia to roam nearer to the pack, the Crusaders appear to peaking perfectly.
Last weekend Waratahs No 8 Wycliff Palu concentrated on shutting down Brumbies' first-five Matt Toomua's space and it is a ploy Slade can expect in the final.
If the 116kg Palu carries the ball down his channel, Slade said he won't be flinching. This is despite some recent defensive mishaps, notably when he was bounced by Blues midfielder Ma'a Nonu on July 5.
''Sure on a couple of occasions it was a technical thing. Those sort of tackles happen quite a lot in a game but it was just unlucky that a couple of times I led with the face instead of the shoulder.
''For me, the pleasing thing is the intent is there to make them.''