A victory is only thing on the Crusaders' minds
Getting a win - not grabbing a four-try bonus point - has been one message bugled loudest from inside the Crusaders' camp this week.
Although the Crusaders and Sharks sit level on 46 points on the Super Rugby log, the New Zealand team sits in second place because of a superior points difference.
The margin favours the Crusaders by only eight points, meaning the Sharks have a chance of finishing second overall if they beat the Stormers in Cape Town and record a better for-and-against record following this final round-robin game.
The Crusaders, however, know their destiny is in their own hands; they meet the Highlanders in Christchurch on Saturday night and although five competition points would be a major bonus in terms of putting the pressure on the Sharks, that is not what they are concentrating on.
"We are not looking too far ahead, we are just looking at this one game,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder maintained.
"We have been guilty of doing that in the past and that is why we are talking about the performance and wanting to be better than last week.
"If we so that then it will take care of all the other things that are going on in the background.''
Blackadder has named the same starting side he expected to feature in last week's match against the Blues in Christchurch.
Lock Sam Whitelock was a late withdrawal from that fixture because of a sore calf, resulting in Jimmy Tupou being promoted for his first run-on start and Scott Barrett being listed on the bench.
The loss of All Black Whitelock didn't have a great impact on the Crusaders' strike power with Tupou proving to be a revelation as they downed the Blues 21-13 at AMI Stadium.
Whitelock took part in training yesterday and despite his heavy workload, and the Crusaders being guaranteed a play-off spot, Blackadder said there was no temptation to rest the international.
If the Crusaders can secure second place on the log behind the Waratahs, who are the minor premiers, they will not have to play in the quarterfinals and will automatically be promoted through to a home semi in Christchurch a week later.
Starting Dan Carter at second five-eighth was always expected because that would allow Colin Slade to remain at first-five.
"We talked about it but we just feel we have got the best players on the park at the moment,'' Blackadder said in regards to whether he pondered switching Carter back into the playmaker's role. ''If we put Dan at 10, then who do we put at 12?
"We just want to back-up on the performance of last week, rather than make changes.''
When the Crusaders last played the Highlanders in Dunedin on May 24 the visitors were fortunate to escape with a 32-30 win after Israel Dagg launched a try-saving tackle on Patrick Osborne in the final seconds.
The Highlanders' comeback in the second half proved an inspiring sight for their fans, with new centre Malakai Fekitoa cementing his All Blacks' call-up with several powerful runs that snapped the Crusaders' defensive wall.
"You put your shoulders and arms around his legs and put him on the ground,'' Blackadder said when asked how to stop the young tyro. ''I thought the Waratahs gave us a real insight into how to shut him down (when they beat the Highlanders 44-16 in Sydney last weekend). You just have to get up and knock him over.
"Don't give him any room to breathe because as we know he can be one of those game breakers.''
Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Kieron Fonotia, Ryan Crotty, Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo, Colin Slade, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett. Reserves: Corey Flynn, Joe Moody, Nepo Laulala, Jimmy Tupou, Luke Whitelock, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Johnny McNicholl.
- The Press
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