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

Rugby: Voices of experience lay out path to a Crusader victory

Kieran Read is over his concussion problems and says he is "feeling great" as the Crusaders prepare to face the Waratahs in Sydney to decide this year's Super Rugby winner. Photo / Getty Images
Kieran Read is over his concussion problems and says he is "feeling great" as the Crusaders prepare to face the Waratahs in Sydney to decide this year's Super Rugby winner. Photo / Getty Images

The week of a grand final can be difficult to get right in terms of preparation, but for the Crusaders the experience of Richie McCaw, the All Black captain, and Kieran Read, his chief lieutenant, is shining through.

The two elder statesmen of the Crusaders are making sure there is no room for error before tomorrow night's match against the Waratahs at Sydney's Olympic Stadium, says Jordan Taufua, a 22-year-old loose forward preparing for the biggest game of his career.

"They're taking control, they're chipping in when they can and voicing their opinions and making sure everyone's clear on their roles," Taufua said.

"They've played in the World Cup and have played in a lot of Super finals so they know how to step up. Hearing their voices and seeing them leading the way is definitely helping us prepare."

Taufua, one of the unsung heroes among the Crusaders pack this season with his charging runs and brutal defence, is starting the match from the reserves bench.

McCaw, who returned last weekend from a rib injury and once again proved that a lack of game time for him matters not a jot, will again start in the No6 jersey, and Matt Todd has been chosen on the open side.

With Read at No8, Taufua has been squeezed out, but his role in the final stages of the match is likely to be crucial. The Chiefs last year in the final against the Brumbies probably got home because of their extra quality on the bench and Taufua's high-impact game is ideally suited to a substitute's role.

"That's what our coaches have talked to us about. It's not about starting, it's about finishing the last 20 minutes of the game. Us guys on the bench do play a very important role.

"As impact players coming on, we have to keep things going and even lift another gear."

While there was concern about Read's health because of the concussion that ruled him out of the first two June tests, in hindsight the break has done him good.

He, like McCaw and Dan Carter looked to be struggling before their semifinal against the Chiefs last year; now there is an infectious enthusiasm around all three.

McCaw has been in and out with thumb and rib problems, and Carter returned only after the June internationals.

"I'm feeling great," Read said yesterday after training in warm Sydney sunshine. "In terms of the body it's in really good nick. But also it's just awesome to be here at this time of the season. The boys are really excited by the challenge of being over here in Sydney and playing in the grand final."

Carter, who has experienced all the highs and lows top-level rugby can provide, admitted to nerves yesterday as he prepared to again wear the No12 jersey outside Colin Slade.

"We've been so close on so many occasions now there's a real drive within the group to win the title, but at the same time we know it's going to be a huge challenge.

"It started right at the start of the week," he said of the nerves. "I was ready to play the game then but I've had to pull myself back and try to nail each day and build as the week goes on so I don't play the game too early. There is a lot of excitment and a lot of nerves but I absolutely love that feeling."

- NZ Herald

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