Wing Nemani Nadolo offers Crusaders an edge
Can Nemani Nadolo jolt some life into the Crusaders' flagging season?
He stands 1.96m, weighs 125kg and has the physique of a second rower but it's Nadolo's exploits on the wing that could give his side the edge against the Lions at Johannesburg's Ellis Park tomorrow morning.
In an age where defence is king, Super Rugby matches are rarely decided by wings, especially not against South African opponents on the high veldt, yet it's a measure of the Crusaders' form slump that Fijian-born and Australian-raised Nadolo appeals as a possible saviour.
After two substitute appearances against the Rebels and Hurricanes the 26-year-old has finally been awarded a place on the right flank where he could reinvigorate a backline struggling to make clean breaks or create space by attracting multiple defenders to a single ball carrier.
By selecting the 108kg centre Kieron Fonotia, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder hopes inserting size to his attack will add electricity to a side averaging only 1.8 tries a game.
But assistant coach Aaron Mauger indicated the arrival of Nadolo and Fonotia doesn't mean the Crusaders will be allowed to go on search and destroy missions from the deep.
With the Lions boasting a phenomenal goal kicker in first five-eighth Marnitz Boshoff, the competition's leading points scorer, Mauger suggested a conservative approach was imminent.
''We have probably been a little bit guilty of trying to play too much in our own half,'' Mauger said.
''Through the first five rounds we have made some poor decisions at the wrong end of the field, and we have paid for it.''
These sort of crunch and grind encounters often mean touring teams must rely on their benches to overwhelm the South Africans.
Last weekend the Chiefs profited when substitute backs Augustine Pulu, Tim Nanai-Williams and Gareth Anscombe instigated an unlikely draw against the Bulls in Pretoria and Blackadder may require impact players such as loose forward Jordan Taufua, halfback Willi Heinz and utility back Tom Taylor to do the same for his lot.
Blackadder may also jab a finger at his All Blacks forwards and demand they lift an extra gear.
If the Crusaders really are committed to a more conservative approach, in which playmaker Colin Slade must kick diligently for open spaces or into touch, their forwards are going to have to carry a load in attempting to trap the Lions inside their own half.
We are yet to see the best from locks Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird or tighthead prop Owen Franks and that needs to be remedied.
With Boshoff nailing 94 per cent of his kicks the Crusaders will be anxious about the consistency of referee Marius van der Westhuizen.
The Crusaders have the worst record for being pinged for entering rucks on the wrong side. Their successful scrum, the best in the comp, could prove pivotal. They have only conceded six scrum penalties compared to the Lions' 17.
Mauger emphasised the importance of field position.
''Territory is going to be really important. Especially up here (at altitude) where the ball flies a little bit further and they have got some good kickers out of hand and also at goals.
''We have to make sure we nail that part of our game to give ourselves a chance in the right areas of the field.''
- The Press
Which 2015 NZ Super Rugby team looks best?