Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders dial up intensity

The Crusaders' forwards, who provided the platform for their semifinal victory over the Sharks with a dominant performance that at times embarrassed the big South Africans, are targeting an improved effort for Saturday's final against the Waratahs.

Like the Sharks, the Waratahs' pack is extremely big - lock Will Skelton weighs 137kg - but there is a suspicion they can be brought down to size with aggression and firepower, something this Crusaders outfit has in abundance. When the Blues beat Michael Cheika's team 21-13 at Eden Park in April, the inexperienced Patrick Tuipulotu showed with his direct running that the Waratahs' pack can dominated.

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Former Bulls lock Jacques Potgieter has become a cult figure in Sydney with his flowing locks and liking for running at the opposition, but the Crusaders will enjoy the prospect of such a challenge.

Owen Franks' defence was outstanding in the 38-6 victory at AMI Stadium, and he for one will relish the chance to cut another South African down to size.

The Waratahs' lineout has also been wobbly this season - an area of strength for the Crusaders - so it's no surprise Todd Blackadder's pack is looking forward to the clash at Olympic Stadium.

Prop Wyatt Crockett confirmed yesterday that the Waratahs' set-piece would be targeted, but added that his side's work at the breakdown needed improving. The Crusaders became disconnected at times against the Sharks and were often penalised for holding on.

Crockett also said that the Crusaders were pleased with their defence but another big effort would be required this week.

"We wanted to really make a statement with our defence and obviously the South Africans having a big physical pack, we wanted to make an impact there," Crockett said. "It's the same this week with the Waratahs, we need to stop them coming forward and hopefully we can do that with a really good, physical, defensive line. Owen has been outstanding the past couple of weeks, leading that physicality, and it's up to the rest of us to match that.

"We didn't play as well as we could have. There were areas in the first half where we dropped a lot of pill out wide and we got cleaned up at the breakdown a few times as well. [Michael] Hooper is pretty good in that area, over the ball, so we have to make sure we're a lot more accurate at the breakdown."

The Crusaders can help negate the effectiveness of Hooper, the Waratahs' skipper and openside flanker, by keeping his side on the back foot at the set-piece and contact areas. If they achieve that then it will also help negate the influence of strike weapons Kurtley Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper and Israel Folau while promoting their own - Dan Carter, Nemani Nadolo and Israel Dagg.

Crockett, who won two titles in his first three years at the Crusaders - 2006 and 2008, said of the Waratahs' lineout: "I think they'll be on the job on Saturday night, being a final - I think they'll come out firing, but yes, we back ourselves and it's certainly an area we'll try to put some pressure on. We just have to be disciplined when we do it and not give away penalties. We've been working hard this week and that's certainly an area where we want to have a crack at them."

The Waratahs have named an unchanged team from last weekend. The Crusaders will name theirs tomorrow.

- APNZ

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