Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders backing a winning formula

Christchurch Coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan
Christchurch Coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Geoff Sloan

Now that the Crusaders have finally hit on a successful formula, coach Todd Blackadder is wary about tinkering on the eve of yet another playoffs appearance.

Talk of bonus points from tonight's match against the Hurricanes in Christchurch has received short shrift from Blackadder, as has any thought of resting players if his side builds a lead.

Having lost their previous two matches to the team coached by former Crusaders stalwart Mark Hammett, and come up short in four previous visits to the finals, Blackadder is taking nothing for granted, a trap he admits has cost him in the past.

"I think it would be dangerous," Blackadder said of the search for a bonus point which would give his side the chance to win the New Zealand conference.

"I know that makes me sound conservative ... but we've got to be really careful to start really well and build our game."

The Chiefs remain favourites to finish on top of the Crusaders again this year, but last week's big defeat in Christchurch has opened the door a fraction for Blackadder's men. However, the defending champions need only a bonus point against the Blues at Eden Park tomorrow to trump the Crusaders.

For the Crusaders, a victory without a bonus point will cement fourth spot and a home qualifier match next weekend. The five-tries-to-two victory over the Chiefs, which followed a big win over the Highlanders in Dunedin, has suggested at least that the Crusaders are firing.

The game plan based on width and pace - which stuttered early in the season - has clicked with a vengeance thanks to the form of Dan Carter and Israel Dagg aligned with the hard running of skipper Kieran Read and his fellow forwards.

Now is not the time to change anything, despite the fact that they have already qualified for the playoffs, and Blackadder wasn't expecting to substitute any of his players in the second half without a good reason.

"That's also a trap and something we learned last year ... there's a real danger of looking too far ahead and I think that's where we slipped up in the past.

"Our challenge is to back up what we did last week.

"We really want to build on that. We're not satisfied.

"There's a lot of growth still to come in our game so that's been our focus this week."

The Crusaders' previous match against the Hurricanes was the 29-28 loss in Wellington which owed much to a late intercept try to Alapati Leiua. Last year the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders in Christchurch thanks to a controversial late score in which there were two cases of obstruction in the buildup.

The Crusaders believe they owe the Hurricanes one, but are wary of a side with no playoffs pretensions and nothing to lose.

- APNZ

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