Crusaders take sentimental approach for title
The Crusaders have stuck to their pledge to keep Richie McCaw in reserve for Saturday's Super Rugby semifinal with coach Todd Blackadder naming an unchanged team to tackle the Chiefs in Hamilton.
McCaw came off the bench for the final 15 minutes of the 38-9 romp over the Reds in Christchurch last weekend.
He will again be used in an impact role in Hamilton with form flankers Matt Todd and George Whitelock retaining their starting spots in the back row alongside captain Kieran Read.
Tugging the heart strings has been a unique way for the Crusaders to motivate themselves this week.
Defeat in Saturday night's Super Rugby semi-final against the Chiefs will mean the squad, who have been working and travelling together for about eight months, will disband.
Once they go their separate ways, that will be it - the same group of men won't be together again.
Hooker Corey Flynn, the Crusaders' most experienced player in history with 133 caps, has seen many recruits come and go since 2002 and says this is the time when a sentimental spin is put on the campaign.
The prospect of staying together for another week can be a powerful motivator.
"We've spoken about it - that we won't be together - there are guys who might leave, others who might not be picked (for 2014)," Flynn emphasised.
"Look at Tom Marshall who is going to the Chiefs - there is one guy who won't be back here next year.
"That (this year's squad) in itself is special, we want to make this team go down in history. There's guys here who have put a lot into the Crusaders franchise and have never won a title."
Dan Carter (sabbatical) is another who will skip next season, Tom Donnelly recently told The Press he was uncertain whether he would be back and Shane Christie has signed for the Highlanders.
Centre Robbie Fruean is recovering from a heart operation but the Crusaders are eager to help his recovery and have indicated they would like him back for 2014.
Last weekend's 38-9 win over the Reds has created a surge of optimism that the Crusaders have the form to be the first team to win the title on foreign territory since the Bulls upset the Sharks with a late Bryan Habana try in Durban in 2007.
Experience could also be crucial: in addition to Flynn and Carter, the Crusaders have Super Rugby centurions in Wyatt Crockett, Andy Ellis and McCaw.
Asked what his response would be if he overheard a younger player stating the 43-15 rout of the Chiefs meant the result of the semi was a formality, Flynn, who has won four titles, said he wouldn't have one.
"You probably wouldn't hear any of our players talk about that because we have already made sure there's nothing like that going through their heads," he said.
"There is a lot of the public and media pumping us up. We have said that win means nothing, they [the Chiefs] are the defending champions, the top qualifiers and they deserve that mantle.
"We have to go up there to their home ground, their crowd. Yeah, she's going to be battle royal."
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Adam Whitelock.