Clash will bring out best in Crusaders - coach
The duel between Dan Carter and Aaron Cruden is about to heat-up again.
Overshadowed by Cruden when the Crusaders lost 28-19 to the Chiefs in Hamilton on May 24, Carter has a point to make against his All Blacks understudy when the two sides meet again at AMI Stadium this Friday night.
As he amassed 25 points during the Crusaders' 40-12 pummelling of the Highlanders in Dunedin last Saturday night, Carter dipped into his considerable range of skills to reaffirm he is still New Zealand's premier No 10.
And coach Todd Blackadder will be eager to do all he can to ensure the first five-eighth fires against the Chiefs as the Crusaders hunt the win that will secure their place in the Super Rugby play-offs with a round remaining.
"The challenge is there for all of our players. He is coming up against Aaron Cruden," Blackadder said. "And when you get a player like Daniel Carter who is so experienced and has played at this level for so long it is those little challenges that get the best out of him.
"Sometimes when we don't have that perceived level of opposition, our guys switch off. It is like a mental thing. The bigger the game, the more our guys rise to it."
Carter's competitive streak should ensure he doesn't allow Cruden to receive all the accolades once more.
While the Highlanders match was interrupted by far too many unforced errors, the bonus-point win reinforced why opponents remain wary of the Crusaders at this time of the season.
It was not just Carter who was so influential. Right wing Tom Marshall was one of the backline's best and the raw front row gave their opposites a black eye.
Even with All Blacks Kieran Read, Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano in the reserves and Owen Franks recovering from his infected elbow, the Crusaders scrum had the edge.
Blackadder's bold decision to offer regular captain Read, Crockett and Romano a breather by relocating them to the bench was vindicated and they are certain to start against the Chiefs.
"I felt we got it right all week," Blackadder added. "I thought it was a pretty lacklustre first 40 [minutes] and when they [the All Blacks] came on they probably got enough rugby under their belts to be really sharp for next week.
"We trusted the other guys to do the job and they did it for us."
Blackadder admitted it wasn't a great spectacle at times before noting: "But we got what we needed out of it."
Franks, who ended-up spending a total of five days in hospital because of his infected arm, is expected to be fit. The tighthead prop missed the previous match against the Chiefs because of a hamstring strain.
Despite inching closer to qualifying for the play-offs for the 16th consecutive season Blackadder remained cautious about allowing his team to get flattered by the 28-point win in Dunedin.
"That performance out there won't be good enough to beat the Chiefs. We are going to have to tidy our game up a little bit and [address] those inaccuracies. But I have a feeling we will be ready for next week but when you are playing the best team in the competition we will be ready for them at home."