Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Blackadder taking no chances against Kings

Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan

The so-called "lesser" teams have enjoyed a habit of beating the Crusaders over the past four seasons, so it's probably a good thing that Todd Blackadder has named a strong line-up to play the Southern Kings in Christchurch tonight.

The only player the Crusaders are resting after thrashing the Bulls at AMI Stadium last weekend is halfback Andy Ellis, who is on the reserves bench.

The other change to the starting line-up is the inclusion of All Blacks lock Luke Romano, who has recovered from a rib injury, for Dominic Bird - a move which will strengthen the pack, although 21-year-old Bird has been impressive in his first two Super rugby starts.

Big guns Dan Carter, Israel Dagg, Kieran Read, Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks are all starting, and it's a testament to how seriously the Crusaders are taking the challenge of the Kings, the new boys on the block who have yet to play away from Port Elizabeth.

Perhaps Blackadder took note of the Blues' downfall against the Bulls at Eden Park. The Blues went into the match with a perfect 10-point record from two matches and with a bye to follow the Bulls game in which to rest players if required, yet Sir John Kirwan chose to make several changes. That wasn't the only reason they lost but it was a big factor.

The Crusaders, on the eve of a tough two-match tour of South Africa during which they will play the Stormers and Sharks (which Carter will miss due to the birth of his first child), believe they have turned the corner with the Bulls victory after two dispiriting losses to the Blues and Hurricanes. They don't want to take their eye off the ball now they are gaining momentum and that's exactly what has occurred over the past few years.

Last year they lost to the Rebels, who finished 12th overall, in Melbourne. In 2011 they lost to the Cheetahs (11th) in Bloemfontein despite probably being the best side in the competition (though they lost to the Reds in the final in that earthquake-ridden season). In 2010 the Crusaders lost to the Force (13th of 14 teams) in Perth. In 2009, a season in which the Crusaders struggled for fluency yet still managed to scrape into the playoffs, they lost to the Cheetahs away and drew with the Force in Christchurch.

All of those poor performances against teams which, on paper, had nowhere near the quality of the Crusaders, have been costly in terms of missing out on home advantage at play-off time.

On the other side of the equation, the Crusaders are one of the best-performing teams in South Africa against top competition, and they will back themselves to beat the Stormers and Sharks.

However, the absence of Carter will make it a bigger challenge, particularly with Tom Taylor also out with a knee injury.

It will put the onus on Tyler Bleyendaal to step up, but it appears the Crusaders are inspired more by challenges so it could be a boost.

Either way, they would be wise to be extra careful when preparing for the match against the Force in Perth on the way home. Their record against a team which has lost far more than it has won over the past four seasons reads: played 4, won 2, lost 1, drawn 1.

Crusaders v Kings

Christchurch, 7.35 tonight

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Johnny McNicholl, Dan Carter, Willi Heinz, Kieran Read (c), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Samuel Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Codie Taylor, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Luke Whitelock, Andy Ellis, Tyler Bleyendaal, Zac Guildford

Southern Kings: George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Ronnie Cooke, Hadleigh Parkes, Marcello Sampson, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, J. Engelbrecht, W. van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, David Bulbring, Daniel Adongo, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira (c)
Reserves: Edgar Marutlulle, Jaco Engels, Rynier Bernardo, Devin Oosthuizen, Nicolas Vergallo, Waylon Murray, Elric van Vuuren

- NZ Herald

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