Momentum key as the Crusaders eye playoffs
Being guaranteed a play-offs spot won't encourage Todd Blackadder to pack away his stockwhip at trainings this week.
Having embarrassed the Chiefs 43-15 at AMI Stadium last Friday night to keep their Super Rugby title aspirations intact, the Crusaders must remain vigilant about keeping their edge before hosting the Hurricanes in their final regular-season fixture this Friday evening.
One thing is certain: maintaining momentum ahead of their qualifying finals, which will be staged on July 20-21, is paramount.
The next thing for Blackadder to weigh-up is whether to keep his team intact or rest some men before the qualifying final the following weekend.
With All Blacks lock Luke Romano to miss the 'Canes fixture because of a high ankle sprain, Blackadder will re-jig his second row and Tom Donnelly should get a rare start alongside Sam Whitelock. Jimmy Tupou is likely to be on the bench.
Other changes appear unlikely.
"My gut feeling is that most of the boys aren't that tired," Blackadder said. "Maybe we have to manage Sam Whitelock because we have to be careful he isn't over-cooked. But I don't think now is the time to talk about rest and rotation."
The Bulls, Chiefs, Brumbies, Reds and Cheetahs are also guaranteed places in the finals.
Given the the way the Hurricanes have performed, only their most myopic supporters could sell their season as a success.
Their 11th placing is indicative of a disappointing year but Blackadder won't waste the opportunity to remind them of what happened in their previous two encounters.
Both ended in defeats, the most recent the 29-28 second-round loss in Wellington on March 8.
"As far as I am concerned, I am not thinking beyond this Friday night," Blackadder added.
"It can be a psychological trap - and we don't want to go into the playoffs with a loss."
Read, who scored two of his side's five tries, was hardly hysterical with excitement following the emphatic win over the Chiefs.
His side's superb performance has to be weighed against the knowledge the defending champions were considerably below their best; everything went pear-shaped at the breakdown where referee Jonathon White caned them for taking shortcuts and their attack was inaccurate because of errors.
"You can't read too much into it...You can look at the scoreline and it's a hammering but, you know, it's a funny thing the mental capacity when maybe things aren't quite on the line," Read said.
"They will certainly be a better side if we face them down the track, or any team that is going to face them."
The Crusaders' are still a slim chance to win the New Zealand conference. It's possible but the odds are against them.
They need to record a bonus-point win over the Canes - and given the way their backs performed last Friday night no-one should laugh-off that scenario - and hope the Chiefs came away from their match against the Blues empty-handed.
Having recorded five consecutive defeats, the most recent was the 34-13 defeat to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, and being forced to fly back from South Africa means the Blues' are goners.
Meanwhile, Chiefs tighthead prop Ben Tameifuna was issued an off-field yellow card for putting his hand across the eye area and face of Crusaders loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett in a maul.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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