Crusaders set to be at full-strength for Super Rugby quarterfinal v Highlanders

Right wing Seta Tamanivalu scored two early tries to help the Crusaders jump out to a 12-0 lead over the Hurricanes on ...
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Right wing Seta Tamanivalu scored two early tries to help the Crusaders jump out to a 12-0 lead over the Hurricanes on Saturday night, before the defending Super Rugby champions roared back to win 31-22.


Introducing five more All Blacks will mark the first step in the Crusaders' recovery process ahead of their Super Rugby quarterfinal against the Highlanders in Christchurch.

Hours could be wasted listening to one-eyed zealots ranting about the misdeeds bestowed upon the Crusaders during their 31-22 loss to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday night, which denied them the Super Rugby minor premiership and, potentially, the chance to host a home final.

No point moaning, it's time to move on, Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar explained.

"It is something in which you must take a deep breath, and accept as a bit of medicine," Mooar said. "And use it to your advantage - to galvanise and focus going into what we always knew was going to be a home knock-out."

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Clearly the Crusaders have no option but to get into glass half-full mode ahead of the match at AMI Stadium next Saturday night.

The good news is they have some serious firepower to call upon; in addition to recalling their All Blacks front row of Joe Moody, Codie Taylor and Owen Franks, who were bashed-up during the series against the British and Irish Lions, they will start captain Sam Whitelock at lock and Ryan Crotty in the midfield.

The backline should be more cohesive with the return of Crotty, who has been recovering from a hamstring injury, which will probably result in Havili being shifted to fullback and Israel Dagg transferring to the right wing.

Having won 14 Super Rugby games as they marched into the Cake Tin, the Crusaders hoped to steam through the regular season unbeaten.

Now this defeat has raised questions about whether the team, as they have in seasons past, might pay the ultimate price for the major disruption of the test window.

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Mooar emphasised the importance of remaining calm against what is expected to be typically aggressive Highlanders side; although they have beaten them twice this season, they required magic plays by Seta Tamanivalu and Mitch Hunt in the dying moments to secure the wins.

"We knew we were going to have the Highlanders or the Sharks (in the quarterfinal), and as a coaching group had prepared for both sides," Mooar said.

"One file went to the rubbish bin, and the other to the fore. No doubt the Highlanders will he happy to come to Christchurch in terms of less travel. But we will want to make it as uncomfortable as we can for them.

"Discipline and cutting down on errors, should be a good start to that."

Referee Glen Jackson spanked the Crusaders 17-8 in the penalty count in Wellington, and the visitors weren't thrilled midfielder Ngani Laumape wasn't penalised for a bruising high hit on David Havili in the 76th minute.

Some passionate Crusaders fans almost collapsed with fright each time Jackson pinged their team. Although some infringements were daft, other penalties, especially around the breakdown, were hard to understand.

Replacement halfback Mitchell Drummond made a terrific break off a lineout late in the game, falling just short of the tryline before being harshly penalised as he tried to place the ball for the oncoming cavalry.

But there is no escaping the fact that unless the Crusaders reduce the penalty count in other areas, the prospect of pitching out of the title race is real.

"We have had a look at what is avoidable," Mooar added. "You take the debate out of it and the decision has been made, certainly discipline is something that needs to - and will - improve.

"Then we will be much better for that."




 

 - Stuff

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