Reds looking to peg Crusaders back in playoff
Surviving the Reds' predicted kicking onslaught may determine whether the Crusaders head to Hamilton or stay at home next weekend.
While the Queenslanders and the Crusaders could dip into a variety of emotional issues to flick their switches ahead of tonight's Super Rugby qualifying final at AMI Stadium, it may be who wins the tactical kicking duels that determines who advances into the semis.
Under the coaching team of Ewen McKenzie and Richard Graham the Reds have successfully utilised a kick-heavy strategy to push opponents back into their half.
And the Queenslanders expect the Crusaders to do the same tonight.
"They have been talking about defence and for me that says they are going to kick the ball down our end and make us play," McKenzie said.
"If you read between the lines they will try to get us play out of our half. But ... we have defended the best in terms of leaking tries out of all the teams that are in the finals."
The firepower of the Crusaders lineout may force the Reds' to keep the ball in play – a strategy used in the past to counter teams who compete on their opponents' throws.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder expunged suggestions he wants to use this sudden-death match to avenge the painful defeat to the Reds in the 2011 final but his men will always remember how savvy halfback Will Genia ruined their title hopes that night with a fine long-range try.
McKenzie also noted that limiting Dan Carter's right to take shots at goal will be crucial.
"Discipline will be important and where you are going to play the game is going to be important. I hope it's a good game, that no-one is scared of playing in front of their goal posts."
The Reds' attack has lagged 13 tries behind the Crusaders, who have scored 44, and the injury to French-bound wing Digby Ioane denies them an electric finisher.
The Crusaders ability to strike from long-range attacks is also more dangerous. That has resulted in them scoring 14 tries from inside their own half - compared to the Reds' six.
Neither side will lack material for motivation.
The Reds will be determined to stick with director of coaching McKenzie for at least another week before he departs to take over the Wallabies.
And Quade Cooper will be eager to prove to his mentor that the freezing-out by former coach Robbie Deans was unwarranted as he seeks a return to the green and gold jersey.
Cooper will also be amped to show he possesses the fortitude and mental toughness to pit his skills against Carter in what may be a precursor to the opening Bledisloe Cup match on August 17.
Unbeaten at home this season and having won eight of their nine last matches, albeit with some shonky performances against the Waratahs and Rebels, the Crusaders are building momentum.
McKenzie hinted his forwards, with captain James Horwill back from injury, are prepared for a scrap.
"Our forward pack, in particular, never gets any wraps but it does the business so we will back ourselves in those stakes," McKenzie said.
"It is torrid, it is winner takes all. Looking at the odds in the paper today, we are $4.20 (to win) ... We are pretty much ranked outsiders," he said.
"Every time we come to New Zealand we are never the favourites, so nothing actually changes for us here. It's a great chance for us to create a little bit of history for ourselves."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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