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

Rugby: I can see why the Chiefs are number one - Blackadder

He has his three All Blacks back and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder says his side will need them against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.
He has his three All Blacks back and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder says his side will need them against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.

He has his three All Blacks back and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder says his side will need them against a Chiefs team which deserves its place at the top of the competition.

Dan Carter, Kieran Read and Israel Dagg represent the cavalry for the Crusaders as they return from their injuries suffered on All Blacks duty against Ireland. All three were missing in last weekend's shock loss to the Hurricanes in Christchurch and their return is a big boost to a team which looked demoralised following the final whistle at AMI Stadium.

Play-maker Carter, who injured a hamstring before the third test in Hamilton, looked the most in doubt of the three but has been given the green light and his experience will be crucial for Blackadder's men. So too will No 8 Read's leadership, ball-carrying and defence following his clearance from concussion suffered in the second test in Christchurch.

Fullback Dagg's recovery from an ankle sprain in Hamilton gives the Crusaders another much-needed attacking option against one of the best defences in the competition.

"We really missed that experience last weekend," Blackadder said of the trio. "When you look at the way they had been performing before injury, they were absolutely on fire. It's great to have them back."

The Crusaders need to beat the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium on Friday and the Force a week later in Christchurch to ensure their place in the play-offs.

And they will have one or two statements to make following, not only their 23-22 defeat to the Hurricanes, but also their loss to the Chiefs in their first encounter of the season in Napier in March.

On that night they lost 24-19 and, although they were missing Carter, Richie McCaw and Sam Whitelock, came up against a Chiefs scrum which caused them no end of problems.

Owen Franks starts at tighthead on Friday, with Ben Franks moving to loosehead and replacing Wyatt Crockett, the props and hooker Corey Flynn the same front row which surprisingly had its problems.

"I don't think they will have a point to prove but it will be at the back of their minds that the Chiefs really disrupted them," Blackadder said.

"They have a very effective scrum and their lineout is also very good. In Brodie Retallick and Craig Clarke they have good ball winners there. Their nine, 10 and 12 are very dominant, you underestimate these guys at your peril. You can see when you analyse them that they have few weakness, you can see why they are number one."

The Crusaders dismantled the Hurricanes' scrum and possibly gave hooker Dane Coles a few sleepless nights when forcing him into four not-straight lineout throws, but Blackadder knows that won't be enough to beat the Chiefs, just as it wasn't to win in the weekend.

"We've got to exert set piece pressure but also play our game and that means transitioning from attack to defence a lot better," he said.

Crusaders team to play the Chiefs at Waikato Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7.35pm: Israel Dagg, Adam Whitelock, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Kieran Read, Richie McCaw (c), George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Ben Franks. Reserves: Quentin MacDonald, Wyatt Crockett, Tom Donnelly, Matt Todd, Willi Heinz, Tom Taylor, Sean Maitland.


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