Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders pumped for Chiefs encounter

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Victorious Canterbury men making long trip home to face Chiefs on their home turf.

Colin Slade had his best game of the season in scoring 25 points against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images
Colin Slade had his best game of the season in scoring 25 points against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein. Photo / Getty Images

The Crusaders are already looking towards one of the toughest trips in Super Rugby - a long-haul flight home to face the Chiefs in Hamilton next weekend.

However, although Waikato Stadium has not been the Crusaders' happy place for a long time, at least in professional rugby terms, they will travel in good spirits following their, at times, brilliant performance against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein yesterday.

They will take some comfort, but not much, from the fact the Chiefs looked out of sorts in hanging on to beat the Rebels 22-16 in Hamilton, but will know Dave Rennie's men will lift themselves immensely for what is a challenge against the old foe.

Lock Luke Romano, who missed the Crusaders' two victories in South Africa, could be available following his calf injury and would add much-needed bulk for what is likely to be a blockbusting match between two teams with opposing styles.

The Crusaders will again hope their dominant set piece and defence lay the foundation, the Chiefs will back their attack to carry them to victory.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw, recovering from a broken thumb, is on track to return for Todd Blackadder's men in a fortnight.

The Crusaders will enjoy their victory over the Cheetahs, which represented Blackadder's first clean sweep as a coach in South Africa. They left Christchurch at a low ebb following their defeat to the Hurricanes but have turned things around impressively.

Blackadder said the time away had helped focus minds on two things - the team and winning. There is a sense of a momentum shift in what is an extremely close competition.

Sam Whitelock, Matt Todd and Kieran Read are coming into form and Colin Slade had his best game of the season in scoring 25 points against the Cheetahs.

He has pace and power and the extra confidence gained from this match will enhance those qualities and with Aaron Cruden out injured the Crusaders will be looking to test Gareth Anscombe to the fullest on Saturday night.

Nemani Nadolo's performance in scoring a hat-trick will result in more attention from defenders but the Crusaders could use that to their advantage too.

The Cheetahs fought back from a 10-26 deficit in the second half to lead 31-26 thanks to three converted tries in a frenetic 10 minutes but the Crusaders were patient and accurate, two qualities that have increasingly come to the fore over the past fortnight. "What was really pleasing was the messages from the [Crusaders] players out on the field," Blackadder said.

"They were talking about just getting their hands on the ball, being really patient and putting them under a lot of pressure."

"We felt before halftime we were starting to get on top. The Cheetahs looked as if they were out on their feet ... I was just so pleased with the fightback. The guys were bloody tough tonight."

The Crusaders' last win at Chiefs' HQ was in July 2012, when a Crusaders team including Dan Carter beat the home side, which included Sonny Bill Williams, 28-21. In between two heart-breakingly close semifinal defeats to the Chiefs there, the Crusaders also lost a round-robin match last year.

The two teams' fortunes have been indelibly linked over the past two seasons. It's still relatively early days, but a win for Blackadder's men would go some way to helping avoid what they must fear the most: another semifinal in Hamilton.

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