Massive pressure on Crusaders to win at home

RICHARD KNOWLER
Last updated 05:00 08/03/2014

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There is only one way the Crusaders can wipe this miserable week from their memories.

Beat the Stormers in Christchurch tonight and the winless Crusaders can erase the self-doubt whirling around inside their minds and also swerve the avalanche of criticism that threatens to undermine their credibility as one of Super Rugby’s king hitters.

Explanations were sought after last weekend’s 35-24 Super Rugby loss to the Blues and the answers from the players and management have included ‘‘angry’’and ‘‘disappointed’’.

No-one has dared shrug-off that lame performance at Eden Park, Crusaders captain Kieran Read included.

‘‘You are obviously disappointed and you do hurt, certainly over the weekend,’’ Read said.

‘‘We have to make sure we tell the boys exactly what we need but be positive as well. You have got to demand it and then you have to deliver it on the field yourself.’’

Such limp displays don’t come without repercussions: blood has been spilled at training and voices raised.

Monday’s session at Rugby Park was an uncompromising one, the likes of which has rarely been endured in recent seasons, as the coaches demanded that players prove they are worthy of the proud franchise’s jersey.

Head coach Todd Blackadder applied the jumper leads to the ailing side by making seven changes  – three were forced through injury, which includes Richie McCaw being out for two months with a broken thumb.

Slow starts are not uncommon for Crusaders sides, but that effort against the Blues was unacceptable on so many levels; the defence, especially, lacked sting.

 The fact is the Blues were not as good as they were allowed to look.

Now for the Stormers. Apart from Jean de Villiers, Schalk Burger, Duane Vermeulen, Peter Grant and Gio Aplon, many fans are unfamiliar with this line-up.

Given that the South Africans have never won in Christchurch, they are outsiders to win this.

But if Blackadder heard any players muttering the history books prove why the Crusaders deserve to be favourites he would hang them by their ears from the nearest street lamp. Things are that tense.

The pressure on the coaching staff is enormous; the competition is still in its infancy but three consecutive losses would undoubtedly compromise their aspirations to top the New Zealand conference.

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Winning means everything. That may force the Crusaders to sacrifice an attractive game plan for a conservative template based around possession and demanding first five-eighth Tom Taylor kick long and into space and force the Stormers to feed defensive lineouts.

The return of flanker Burger adds a raw edge to the Stormers pack.

‘‘He’s just a bloke who’s going to give 100 per cent and dives in wherever he plays,’’ Read said. ‘‘Across the back row they are big physical men.’’

Last weekend the Stormers pipped the Hurricanes in Cape Town, being rewarded for repeatedly driving off attacking lineouts.

Crusaders loosehead prop Wyatt Crockett expects a similar assault tonight.

‘‘We are well aware of exactly what they are trying to do. It’s easy to have the right attitude in the first, second and third time they have their maul but it’s about doing it for the whole 80 minutes.

‘‘They are a team that will persist and persist until they break you. We just have to make sure we bar-up and do the business.’’


- The Press

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