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

Rugby: Blackadder's change of tack

Training revamp with good early results is cause for Todd Blackadder's optimism; he also has pick of some talented combos

Todd Blackadder.
Todd Blackadder.

As a coach, Todd Blackadder is prone to all manner of sayings, and one of his standard lines is the one about the definition of insanity being the inclination to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting a different result.

After five years of slow starts despite a glittering array of talent at his disposal, the Crusaders coach has decided the madness has to stop.

Out went the team-building camps, in has come rugby-specific training and the spotlight on every player's performance in pre-season.

After an internal trial, victories came against the Highlanders and Hurricanes, with Richie McCaw playing a half in the latter in Levin. They didn't win a pre-season game last year.

One thing he can't do anything about is the draw and this season it's reasonably favourable to the Crusaders. For the past three seasons, Blackadder's men have opened with an away match against the Blues. This time they host the Chiefs.

Last year they had a bye in round one, which may have contributed to their shocking effort against the Blues. This year their byes come in rounds six and 11. They play the Lions and Cheetahs on their South African tour, avoiding the big three of the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers. The run-in is also favourable - three of their final four matches are at AMI Stadium.

Other reasons for optimism despite the absence of first-five Dan Carter? The presence of All Blacks skipper McCaw from the start is one; several playmaking options - Colin Slade, Tom Taylor, Tyler Bleyendaal - is another.

The maturing of his locks is one more boost. In Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano and Dominic Bird, Blackadder has three of the best.

Much will depend on the fitness of Kieran Read, one of the best players in the world, and the form of Israel Dagg, who struggled for much of last season. On his day, Dagg can tear any defence apart. His partnership with elusive wing Johnny McNicholl could be a highlight.

Ryan Crotty's European tour with the All Blacks will give him confidence - he captained the Crusaders pre-season - and he'll play an important midfield role. Reynold Lee-Lo, of the Hurricanes, could make a difference at centre, while big wing Nemani Nadolo may be a surprise package.

The Crusaders' attack has been too predictable over the past four years. As the coaches move away from the side-to-side business to a more direct approach, Lee-Lo and Nadolo could be just what the seven-time champion Crusaders have been looking for.

The Crusaders are very hard to beat at home. So they must finish top of the New Zealand conference to further their claims in the playoffs. Their past two seasons have finished at the semifinal stage at the hands of the Chiefs in Hamilton

- NZ Herald

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