Crusaders wary of Wayne Smith influence
It's what Wayne Smith doesn't say that the Crusaders should fear most.
When prodded about Todd Blackadder's belief the Chiefs run interference ahead of their ball runners, Smith kept his verbal bullets in their bandolier ahead of tonight's Super Rugby semifinal at Waikato Stadium.
''He's learning the coaching game isn't he? I put that down to Toddy putting some pressure on the ref,'' Chiefs assistant coach Smith said.
''Maybe he doesn't think that having 13 All Blacks on the field is enough and wants a 16th man on the field as well, I don't know. That's gamesmanship, mate, I take it with a grain of salt.''
Smith, former coach of the All Blacks, Crusaders and Northampton, knows how this business works. He is officially tagged as Dave Rennie's assistant, yet everyone who faces the defending champions acknowledges Smith has gathered enough intelligence during a career spanning almost two decades to make him one of the shrewdest operators in the professional rugby industry.
If anyone is going to spot a flaw in the Crusaders, it is the 56-year-old former Canterbury first five-eighth. He gives away little publicly but Crusaders coach Blackadder and his players - 10 represented the All Blacks when Smith was Graham Henry's assistant for eight years - are not blind to what he can offer.
Confidence means plenty in sudden-death matches and given the Crusaders thrashed the Chiefs 43-15 in Christchurch three weeks ago, they are favoured by the TAB to advance to the final.
The Crusaders believe if referee Steve Walsh is consistent with his rulings around the breakdown, and allows them to produce quick-ball, no team can stay with them.
Smith was the first to acknowledge that when the Crusaders trounced his men at AMI Stadium they were near-untouchable. At the time he stated the only positive the Chiefs could take from the thrashing was his players couldn't hide behind excuses; they had been belted and had to front-up to their frailties.
''The Crusaders were red-hot that night, they were the best team we have played against in the two years I have been involved with the Chiefs,'' Smith said. ''The skill level was outstanding and they were really far too good for us in that game.''
The Crusaders shouldn't be fooled. Their record in Hamilton since Smith, Rennie, Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge took is two losses from three games, including last year's semi. They also lost their relocated ''home'' match against the Chiefs in Napier last year.
When the two sides last met in Hamilton, on May 24, the Chiefs forwards' aggression was light years ahead of what was later seen in Christchurch.
They profited from the charge-downs of Dan Carter and Tom Marshall's clearing kicks - a result of Smith's analysis - and immediately scored from a rare attacking chance in the final quarter of the 28-19 victory. With Aaron Cruden in a more enthusiastic mood than Dan Carter, the Chiefs looked like a championship team.
The Crusaders forwards have been magnificent, when it counts, this season. Although they have been flat at times - the opening round loss to the Blues, the shock defeat to the Force and the narrow win against the Rebels are examples - they can also be a vicious beast that plays with intelligence.
Blackadder will expect them to be clever in picking which breakdowns they choose to enter and when to fan out in defence. He will be wary about them chasing lost causes but if the ball is contestable, he will demand they strike with bone-jarring efficiency.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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