Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders won't go too far from basics

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is trying to get the best out of Israel Dagg. Photo / Getty Images
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is trying to get the best out of Israel Dagg. Photo / Getty Images

Talk of a new, up-tempo, style of play at the Crusaders from coach Todd Blackadder begs the question - are we going to see wholesale changes at Eden Park tonight from the red and blacks? The short answer is: No.

The Crusaders have relied on structure for too long to start playing like headless chooks - they won't run everything against the Blues, a team which has traditionally liked an open game. That will be playing into the hands of Sir John Kirwan's men and negating the strengths of the Crusaders, which are solid set piece, few mistakes and tight defence.

With a forward pack containing seven All Blacks, plus Matt Todd, they will play a percentage game as they always have done.

The tempo will be set as usual by Dan Carter and the main difference is likely to be what occurs outside him. Over the past three seasons (he missed 2009 as he was with Perpignan), Carter has felt bogged down by the responsibility of getting his team over the gain line.

It has been a burden and one he doesn't face with the national team. Too often the Crusaders backs have looked to him for ideas, now it's time to start providing a few of their own.

Blackadder's decision to take the vice-captaincy off him is significant too, and would have come after consultation with the 30-year-old who has played 94 times for the All Blacks and 109 times for the Crusaders. It is an attempt to free the shackles and to get Carter back to his free-wheeling best.

In seeking a solution to his biggest challenge - how to get the best out of his All Blacks, especially Carter and Israel Dagg - Blackadder is concentrating less on the final outcome, which is a first title win for the seven-time champions since 2008, and more on enjoyment.

New backs coaches Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger have important roles to play here. Matson, a bubbly character who took over Rob Penney's head coaching role at Canterbury last season and carried on the team's provincial dominance, will have brought new ideas, along with Mauger, following Daryl Gibson's resignation.

Matson and Mauger also appear to know what buttons to push in order to get the best out of Robbie Fruean, a giant midfielder who provided a highlight in this corresponding match last season when sending Piri Weepu flying backwards with one hydraulic-like push.

Some commentators have suggested the coaching pair will follow the Canterbury pattern of width - stretching teams across the park - which can become predictable.

The style, which seeks to pit fleet-footed outside backs against tight forwards, has become a Crusaders hallmark, too.

If done endlessly it can become predictable. The key lies with Carter, who when on his game is one of the best around at seeking the best option - pass, kick or have a dart himself.


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