Gnarly Chiefs major threat to Crusaders' Super Rugby winning streak
Please don't let this whirlwind Super Rugby ride die in Suva.
It's a plea you could imagine more than a few jittery Crusaders zealots have murmured behind closed curtains this week, their hearts hammering madly as they picture an image of the Chiefs silhouetted on the Super Rugby horizon.
The Chiefs, who meet the Crusaders at ANZ Stadium in Fiji on Friday night, are a bit like an irascible neighbour at a street party, the one who easily triggers the silly bell and starts jabbing fingers at chests and telling everyone within shouting distance what is what.
You have to say they certainly know how to dish out the nasty medicine when it comes to the Crusaders, who, let's face it, appear to have some sort of mental block when grappling with the 2012-13 champions in recent years.
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Under new coach Scott Robertson, who has guided the Crusaders to 11 consecutive wins and to the top of the competition log, maybe this horrible habit is about to change.
As they did during the 20-12 win over the Hurricanes last week, the Crusaders will attempt to apply the tourniquet through the scrum, and their lineout drives, and a hard running defensive wall could limit the influence of playmaker Aaron Cruden.
Look at that Chiefs pack, a much more intimidating unit on paper than the one presented by the Hurricanes: Tight five members Brodie Retallick, Dominic Bird, Nepo Laulala, Nathan Harris and Kane Hames have all played for the All Blacks, and Sam Cane is the test No 7.
The unbeaten Crusaders are not just on a roll - they are on the rampage; it is as if they have been tooled-up with magic wands, that have empowered them to zap opponents throughout New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
Pinning a victory flag on a map of Fiji would add another twist to their domination of the southern hemisphere competition, but, more importantly, inch them even closer to securing the coveted top spot in the New Zealand conference.
It would also allow them to keep making the Lions sweat, their biggest threat in terms of who finishes top overall and therefore qualifies for home play-off privileges.
The Crusaders' road down the last stretch is littered with trickier fixtures than those awaiting the Lions; following the Fiji trip they meet the Rebels in Melbourne, and the Highlanders at home. Then Robertson must farewell the bulk of his forward pack, and probably several backs, for the All Blacks' series against the British and Irish Lions.
When Super Rugby starts again, the final regular season game is against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
"We are well aware of our requirements, what it is to get a home final and the difference between finishing first and fifth is a fine margin," Robertson said. "For us, we are still in charge of where we finish, if we perform."
Last year the Chiefs beat the Crusaders 23-13 in Suva, gleefully accepting possession as the Crusaders inexplicably tried to play expansively in the wet, slippery conditions.
This time round, the Crusaders say they have planned to cater for whatever the weather gods fling their way. They need to. Because it will be madness to follow that template, again.
The Crusaders must also kick diligently, to keep Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie bottled-up. McKenzie's numbers are impressive; he is the best in the competition in terms of carries and metres gained, and the third-best at beating tacklers.
"Damian is elusive with his feet, and ball in hand, and has got that acceleration. It's incredible," Robertson acknowledged. "We are well aware of his strengths, and we have got to better than good around him. To make sure we keep an eye on him and limit his opportunities.
"That is what you do with any good player."