Crusaders ready to scrum down with Force
Raising eyebrows has been a difficult task for the Western Force this season. Yet, despite their poor performances, the Force have still ensured several opponents take a swift double-take when unleashing their unorthodox front row switcheroos.
In recent matches the Force, who meet the Crusaders in Perth tonight, appear - either by chance or otherwise - to have fallen into a pattern of using their props in the same way a rugby league coach would utilise an inter-change bench. Although Sanzar have been reported as stating they will not censure the Force for their habit of withdrawing a prop in the first half before using him to replace another ''injured'' front rower in the second, the routines have not gone unnoticed.
''Obviously when we were looking at their scrum it did get mentioned, but sometimes these are tactical and sometimes they come down to injury,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said in Perth this week.
''The last thing anyone wants when you have got a scrum like we have is to go to uncontestables.''
Even with lock Sam Whitelock not suiting-up the Crusaders start a forward pack with five All Blacks. Blackadder seems quite content for the Force to implement a plan to freshen their props by making a series of substitutions, even if it proves to be against the spirit of the game.
He just wants his side to keep scrummaging, stating he will be disappointed if ''golden-oldie'' set-pieces are introduced because the Force are not allowed to replace an ''injured'' player.
The Crusaders were miffed when scrums were not contested in their narrow round-two loss to the Hurricanes. A repeat of that scenario will be unpalatable for Blackadder because it allows the Force to set their defences more easily.
''That really neutralises the dominance you can sometimes have over a team.''
Maybe the mystery around the prop-swaps is just another sideshow for a colourful franchise that has endured their share of controversies since joining Super Rugby in 2006; John Mitchell's stormy reign as coach and Matt Giteau's failed sponsorship deal number among the less memorable moments.
Yet the Crusaders would be fools to think they only need to dust off the sand from the nearby beaches and dash on to nib Stadium to win this. They would do well to ignore the Force's controversies and their poor record - just one in seven matches - and their dreadful record as one of the competition's worst attaking sides.
The Crusaders' return from five matches in Perth has not been flash: two wins, two draws and a loss. On Thursday Blackadder demanded a vigorous training and believes the side's arrival in Perth from South Africa last Sunday has allowed the squad to settle.
"They have always been really close games in the past (in Perth) but we have never had a full week to prepare. But we have this time. We are good to go and there is a real edge to the attitude.''
The loss of first five-eighth Dan Carter (hamstring injury) will not have enhanced Blackadder's mood. He challenged fellow All Black Israel Dagg to re-discover his confidence with a cracker in his first start at fullback since the March 16 match against the Bulls.
The Force have former All Blacks halfback Alby Mathewson on their books but have been weakened by the loss of lock Hugh McMeniman who will miss the next six weeks because of a fractured shoulder.
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Tom Marshall, Tyler Bleyendaal, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Shane Christie, George Whitelock (c), Dominic Bird, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Tom Donnelly, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Telusa Veainu, Zac Guildford.