Richard Kahui makes case for All Black selection
Richard Kahui has not heard from the All Black coaches this season, but the dynamic Chiefs centre is going the right way about getting to the top of their contact list.
After returning to Super Rugby two months ago, after yet another extensive period out with a shoulder injury, the 25-year-old has stormed back into form at a time which couldn't have been better for his team.
Kahui was last weekend instrumental in getting the Chiefs over the line against the Stormers, and he all but scored a try after breaking the line and kicking ahead, before being obstructed, with a penalty try the result.
That moment was one which seemed to reflect the resurgence of Kahui, who has steadily been building back into form.
"I'm starting to feel better," he said. "I'm starting to feel like I'm playing some better footy. I'm still quite a way off where I feel I need to be. But at the moment I'm making steps every week and starting to feel better and better, and that's all I can do at the moment.
"If I can keep doing that I'm sure one of these next few weeks I'll be due for a biggie, and hopefully it's this weekend."
He said his improved form came down to a mixture of himself getting more comfortable about his body and of the team lifting their game around him.
"I think everything contributes to it. I think, first and foremost, it's just that confidence back in myself, back in my body, back in my shoulders. And it's amazing how much confidence I've got in my game just from feeling good and just from waking up every morning and feeling great.
"And obviously now we're getting on a bit of a roll. And I think everyone's just taken steps the last few weeks. Individually we've lifted and it's lifted the team rather than the team lifting individuals."
If Kahui's last meeting with the Crusaders was anything to go by, the southerners will mind their running lines after Matt Berquist and George Whitelock were smashed by him in two memorable big hits at Mt Maunganui last month.
The Chiefs lost that clash 34-16 but this time they go in after two successive wins and face a Crusaders side who have been hampered by injuries, and are coming back from South Africa after losing to the Cheetahs.
But Kahui said teams were so adept at performing after long travel now and felt the Crusaders had quality players to slot in for injured team-mates, which included Sonny Bill Williams.
"Looking at them, they've got a few personnel down, but they've still got the core of a really good team and it's going to be a big challenge for us, but we're excited about it.
"They're not short of talent. Ryan Crotty's played plenty of Super rugby as well. He's not the same as Sonny Bill but he's certainly got certain strengths that make his game really good and really accurate. There's good match-ups across the field."
Though Williams' absence waters down a Crusaders midfield, Kahui still gets to mark 22-year-old Robbie Fruean, who has put his case for higher honours forward in recent times.
But that won't heap the pressure on Kahui as the pair battle to show they should be the fourth midfielder in the World Cup squad.
"I think the only pressure that's on us is from within our team," Kahui said.
"We want to win, we're not too fussed about individual battles, we're worried about the team battle.
"Individually it's always nice to play the best players in the country and Robbie's played some great footy in recent weeks. It's always a good challenge to play against the best players in the country, so it will be an exciting challenge for me, but more importantly, I want the Chiefs to win and I want us to win well."
And if they were to win tonight, it would certainly carry on some traditional late season momentum for the Chiefs.
"Every game we can win keeps our dreams alive of making the playoffs," Kahui said.
"We've got to play everyone that's above us. So if we're going to make those playoffs we're going to play some good footy to get there, and that's what I'm most excited about.
"I think the Chiefs (in) the last two weeks have started to show some really good signs and, if we can keep growing on that second 40 in that Stormers game and try put these Crusaders boys under pressure, I think we'll take even more confidence than we have now, out of it.
"We pick up four, five points against these boys, then the bye next week and all of a sudden three from three doesn't look too daunting at the end."
The Crusaders' loss last weekend wasn't too much of a shock to Chiefs coach Ian Foster.
"I thought the Cheetahs played well, I thought they hustled them a little bit. It wasn't a real surprise, in the sense that, they put a lot into that Stormers game, they played a Cheetahs team growing in confidence.
"And quite frankly, we've been there, done that, it's not easy over there. When you look at the table, I think a lot of our public look at the South African teams and just expect us to win over there, but it ain't easy, and that's just a testimony to that."
Foster could feel the intensity start to lift in the Chiefs camp and felt his players will definitely be up for a huge performance as they aim to win their fifth match against the Crusaders in what will be their 17th clash.
"It's been building.
"This is a big game for us, it's actually a big game for them too, they probably don't want to stall now. Clearly they're a quality team, they've got great players in the right positions, so there's a big challenge there for us, but I think we're ready for this one."
Crusaders: Tom Marshall, Brent Ward, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Willi Heinz, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), George Whitelock, Chris Jack, Luke Romano, Ben Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: David Hall, Owen Franks, Brad Thorn, Joe Wheeler, Steve Alfeld, Matt Berquist, Tu Umaga-Marshall.
Chiefs: Mils Muliaina (c), Tim Nanai-Williams, Richard Kahui, Dwayne Sweeney, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Stephen Donald, Brendon Leonard, Fritz Lee, Sam Cane, Liam Messam, Romana Graham, Craig Clarke, Ben Afeaki, Hika Elliot, Sona Taumalolo. Reserves: Aled de Malmanche, Toby Smith, Culum Retallick, Taiasina Tuifua, Tawera Kerr-Barlow, Mike Delany, Jackson Willison.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson Kickoff: 7.35pm, McLean Park, Napier