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OPINION: Todd Blackadder had no sooner lofted a finger in the direction of his fiercest critics on Saturday night when, several hours later, a giant monkey gleefully clambered on to his back during the Crusaders' flight to South Africa.
The Republic has done her best to accelerate the ageing process for Blackadder since he started as Crusaders head coach in 2009. She will be well pleased with her efforts.
Never has he sat in the departure lounge at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport and toasted an unbeaten tour.
When also taking into account the semifinals defeats against the Bulls in Pretoria 2009 and Soweto in 2010 Blackadder has managed a return of just four wins against seven losses.
When he first saw this year's Super Rugby draw his stomach must have flipped at the prospect of what lay in wait: the Stormers and Sharks in Cape Town and Durban before stopping off in Perth to confront the Western Force.
And Richie McCaw will be on leave, while Dan Carter remains at home ahead of the birth of his first child.
To bust the cycle of repeated losses in Africa Blackadder knows something must change. And we saw a continuation of this mindset as the Crusaders trounced the Southern Kings 55-20 at AMI Stadium on Saturday night.
Since the defeats to the Blues and Hurricanes the resurgent Crusaders have collected two bonus-point wins against the Bulls and Kings. Their promises to stiffen up their desire to run direct lines and play the wide game has resulted in their attack amassing 96 points.
Stormers coach Allister Coetzee, who will not have forgotten the way the Crusaders exposed his side's one-dimensional reliance on a defensive game plan in the 2011 semi-final at Newlands, will now question whether the Crusaders will dare to be so bold away from home.
There is little doubt Blackadder will pick his strongest side and the availability of captain and No 8 Kieran Read, who retired with a sore toe against the Kings, is crucial.
Read's willingness to keep charging hard at the line confirms he is one of the most damaging ball-carrying forwards in the world. It is inspiring and a trait that also makes McCaw one of the most revered leaders in All Blacks' history
Blackadder is under no such pressure to return wing Zac Guildford to the starting side after he unexpectedly wore the No 11 jersey when fullback Israel Dagg withdrew to rest a tender hamstring.
This late switch was probably a ploy to take the spotlight off Guildford, but the All Black appeared to put all the pressure on himself.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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