McCaw urges Crusaders to stem Waratahs flow
Richie McCaw knows that slicing the Waratahs' main artery is the key to dimming the lights in their backline's stars eyes.
While much of the attention before tonight's Super Rugby grand final in Sydney has been on the Waratahs talented backline, which boasts the best attacking statistics in the competition, the only numbers the Crusaders' forward has been staring at are the ones between one and eight.
McCaw knows the chances of himself and captain Kieran Read guiding the Crusaders to their eighth title hinge on whether they can repeatedly strike at the heart of the Waratahs' forwards.
''You give them ball with space and they will want to have a crack and they have got some playmakers that do that,'' McCaw said
''We just have to make sure we limit that.''
That begins by applying the tourniquet to their pack and ensuring the flow of possession to strike runners Israel Folau, Rob Horne, Alofa Alofa and Adam Ashley-Cooper is diminished.
Applying pressure on the Waratahs' scrums and lineouts will have dominated the Crusaders' strategy meetings this week; that, the Crusaders will hope, will have a deadly flow-on effect.
''I think we have got a really good set-piece team,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder emphasised.
''We have a complete game but the Waratahs keep the ball in hand more than anyone; it is going to be a real challenge for us defensively.''
Pressure does strange things to coaches in grand final week.
Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, who earlier in the season was sanctioned by Sanzar for abusing a TV cameraman, blew-up at a photographer who focused on the lineout drills at their training on Thursday.
''What if I come to your work and start f....ing photographing you?'' Cheika shouted.
Cheika, having looked at the way Crusaders lock Sam Whitelock robbed several of the Sharks lineout throws last week, has reason to be nervous.
The Crusaders have averaged the most lineout steals (2.4) per game this year, while the Waratahs have the worst success rate (78 per cent) in the competition.
Cheika will reason his side weren't minor premiership winners by accident and that the lineout isn't everything, but he will be anxious about the way the Crusaders can use Dominic Bird at the front to try and disrupt throws and Kieran Read and Whitelock to contest them further down the line.
Whitelock, who has missed just one game with a calf strain, has been the hero of this Crusaders machine and any of their own lineout wins near the opposition line could result in driving mauls being set up.
Referee Craig Joubert's control of the scrum engagement is important; if the Crusaders get into their rhythm early in the game, the psychological boost from putting a good heave on the Waratahs pack will be celebrated.
''Often, in these games, things are pretty tight upfront at the start of the game because both sides are obviously fizzing,'' Crusaders loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett said.
''When you get that opportunity to really put it home, and get that ascendancy, you have to really take it.''
Crockett also welcomed the chance work under the gaze of Joubert, believing his technique will be fairly assessed by the South African.
''He has probably been the best referee that I have had for a number of years. There are no worries with him at all.''
For midfielder Dan Carter, a victory will mean an end to the booze ban he imposed on himself several months ago.
''All going well I might be able to have a couple this weekend,'' he said.