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

Rugby: Crusaders can go all the way

Blackadder eyes Chiefs clash and says there's plenty more in the tank.

Dan Carter of the Crusaders goes over for his try. The playmaker's form has allowed his backs to cut loose. Photo / Getty Images
Dan Carter of the Crusaders goes over for his try. The playmaker's form has allowed his backs to cut loose. Photo / Getty Images

They fell at this hurdle last season, but the Crusaders feel they have the momentum and confidence to leap the Chiefs and go all the way this year.

Last night's 15-13 victory by the Brumbies over the Cheetahs at Canberra Stadium confirmed Todd Blackadder's men will travel to Hamilton for a repeat of last year's semifinal this Saturday night, with Jake White's Brumbies making the long trip to Pretoria to play the Bulls in the other on Sunday morning NZT.

The defending champion Chiefs will be well rested after their weekend off, but they will be eyeing their next opponents with a new respect after the Crusaders put the Reds to the sword 38-9 in the AMI Stadium qualifier match on Saturday.

It was a performance resonant of their big victory over the Chiefs at the same venue a fortnight earlier - a brutal, muscular effort from the forwards allowing the backs to run with a freedom and style which the Crusaders haven't displayed in years.

For the past five years the Crusaders have crept into the play-offs with more of a whimper than a bang, and their season has been cut short as a result - their best chance going begging in the 2011 final against the Reds in Brisbane. Their current form suggests it could end differently this time.

The Crusaders are in good shape injury-wise. And with 15 minutes under his belt following his return from sabbatical, Richie McCaw is likely to get a longer run, probably off the reserves bench, at what will likely be a sold-out Waikato Stadium.

Crusaders coach Blackadder yesterday said there was plenty more to come from his team.

"It wasn't quite as physical or intense as what we were expecting it to be," he said of the Reds match. "In the changing rooms the guys looked really good and fresh."

He agreed his forwards provided the platform for the four-tries-to-nil win, but added: "There's plenty more in the tank too."

This Saturday's match will be the decider after a round-robin win each for the Crusaders and Chiefs - Dave Rennie's men winning 28-19 in Hamilton in May.

They are clearly the two best teams in New Zealand, if not the competition, and many will be disappointed the clash has to come at this juncture rather than the final.

The Chiefs' last match was their 26-16 win over the Blues at Eden Park nine days ago, a performance which suggested they had their eyes on the play-offs.

"It has been a real armwrestle with the Chiefs this year," Blackadder said. "The first time we played them we didn't prepare well, it was a short week with the All Blacks' camp and the performance reflected that. They played very well too. The reverse probably happened in Christchurch. We are two very even teams."

While the Crusaders forwards have stepped it up, the form of playmaker Dan Carter, who won't be involved with them next year because of his sabbatical, has allowed his backs to cut loose.

"DC is really organising that backline and Tom Taylor and Ryan Crotty have stepped up. We are playing with confidence, but there is a fair way to go yet."

It is understood that Steve Walsh will referee the match at Waikato Stadium, with Craig Joubert controlling things at Loftus.

Final four

Chiefs v Crusaders
Waikato Stadium
Saturday, kick-off 7.35pm

Bulls v Brumbies
Loftus Versfeld
Sunday, kick-off 3.05am

Saturday, August 3

- NZ Herald

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