The Crusaders have pinpointed the breakdowns as a key to the outcome of their top-of-the-table New Zealand conference clash against the Highlanders in the fifth round of the Super 15 competition at Carisbrook on Saturday.
Even without All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, the Crusaders have fielded a potent loose forward combination of All Blacks Kieran Read and George Whitelock, and emerging openside flanker Matt Todd, but they have a healthy respect for their Highlanders counterparts.
Adam Thomson has been in rampaging form and No 8 Nasi Manu and Alando Soakai have been nearly as good.
The Highlanders have a point advantage over the Crusaders after four rounds in the race to finish top of the New Zealand conference ladder and as well as the traditional southern derby rivalry, the match will be the 200th game of Super rugby for the Crusaders.
"The Highlanders are worthy conference leaders. They have proven to be a very good side and did a marvellous job on the road in South Africa playing probably the two toughest teams away so they earned a lot of respect," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said today.
"It's going to be a tight, tough game as southern derbies always are and I think they'll have a lot of confidence, but we are going down there to rattle the cage a bit.
"They've got a tough attitude installed in them this year and the breakdown is something they've really focused on and they've got a lot of rewards there," Blackadder said.
"They've kept their ball which has helped their continuity and they're playing smart rugby. If you take them lightly you'll come second."
Todd, who has been a stand-out filling in for the injured McCaw, said he had a good understanding with captain Read and Whitelock and felt they had been working effectively as a unit.
"But the Highlanders have a very good loose trio themselves and obviously this week will be a big test especially at the breakdowns which has been one of their real strengths. We know that not only we as loose forwards but as a team we need to front there and it's certainly been a big focus for us this week."
The Crusaders have made two changes, both in the forwards, to the team which humbled the Brumbies, 52-10, in Nelson last Friday. Loose-head prop Wyatt Crockett will start off the bench for the first time with Ben Franks taking his place and propping with younger brother, Owen. All Blacks lock Brad Thorn slots back in the second row ahead of Chris Jack, who played his 100th match for the Crusaders last week.
"The worst part of my week is trying is having to stand one of them down. Props just absolutely hate it, but we did it last year and it worked well. They'll get the same amount of game time and they have got to work well as a unit. All have been playing well and I think Wyatt Crockett has been the form prop of the campaign so far," Blackadder said.
In the reserves after recovering from injury are All Blacks wing Zac Guildford and halfback Kahn Fotuali'i.
The Crusaders have won 12 of 18 matches between the sides, but the Highlanders have won two of the last three including a 26-14 win in Christchurch in 2008 when the Crusaders led the table with the Highlanders near the bottom.