Hurt Crusaders need to deliver after loss

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2013
Israel Dagg
Photosport
RIGHTFUL POSITION: Israel Dagg will be at fullback when the Crusaders face the Hurricanes on Friday night.

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This has been no ordinary week at Camp Crusaders.

Even for a side known for being a notoriously slow starter, the intensity of the scrutiny and debate after last weekend's 34-15 loss to the Blues may have surprised, and irked, the Crusaders.

That is what happens when a side gets spanked 5-0 in the try count; everyone wants to know what went wrong for a team the bookies have, again, tipped to win another Super Rugby title.

There was no shortage of tucker to sustain the feeding frenzy as the Crusaders' high error count, lack of vigour at the breakdown and their new attacking themes were repeatedly chewed over.

Some comments may have cut deeper than others.

Former All Blacks and Crusaders prop Richard Loe questioned in a newspaper column whether the Crusaders need to change their mindset.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen noted on a TV rugby show how the Blues were able to expose their opponents by the dominance of their ball carriers and by straightening their attack.

A rewind of the tapes did not encourage Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder to lob any grenades around the selection table.

He may show less restraint if they lose to the Hurricanes in Wellington tonight, although making decisions based on emotion have not been Blackadder's style since being appointed head coach in 2009.

Tearing apart the playbooks revamped over summer do not appear to be an option. However, that did not prevent Blackadder producing some tough talk.

He expects more aggression from his men tonight and knows Hurricanes coach Mark Hammett, his old coaching partner and team-mate, will be seething after last weekend's defeat to the Reds in Brisbane.

Another loss and the Hurricanes' record will be 0-3.

And Hammett, who resurrected his reputation in Wellington last season after sacking All Blacks Andrew Hore and Ma'a Nonu in 2011, will be nervously eyeing the New Zealand conference table.

"We know it is going to be desperate for them," Blackadder said. "I don't think they are far away, either. I thought last week they were pretty unlucky - passes aren't sticking. We know what that feeling is like because we had a taste of that ourselves.

"What we need to do is bring is some clinical, controlled aggression . . . that's our breakdown work and carrying the ball into contact."

Despite assistant coach Tabai Matson denying earlier in the week that Israel Dagg's shift from wing to fullback was a fait accompli, he fooled no-one. That move was inevitable.

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Dagg, as seen when he plays for the All Blacks, can be without peer from set-play raids or on the counter-attack and sewing together regular phases - from accurate work at the ruck - should assist him and wings Johnny McNicholl and Tom Marshall to get the space that was not on offer at Eden Park.

After the gloom of the Blues' loss, Blackadder was heartened by the performance from lock Dominic Bird, who was chased by Blues coach John Kirwan last year.

Despite the defeat, the 2.06m giant said he had no regrets.

Hansen acknowledged his form would be monitored throughout the year.

"Dominic Bird is someone we have been keeping an eye on for a wee while.

"He is certainly big enough but he just has to learn the trade."

- The Press

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