Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders' form a gift for Read

Captain's go-forward skills taken up by others adding to attacking options

With less onus on Kieran Read to provide momentum he could be more of a danger tonight against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images
With less onus on Kieran Read to provide momentum he could be more of a danger tonight against the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images

Kieran Read last year watched the Crusaders' semifinal defeat to the Chiefs in Hamilton from the discomfort of his couch.

Injured in the latter stages of the season, Read was a spectator for both play-off games his team was involved in - the qualifier win over the Bulls in Christchurch and the 20-17 defeat to the eventual champions at Waikato Stadium.

His absence was keenly felt due mainly to the momentum he provides with the ball. His replacement at No 8 was one Richie McCaw, a player with special qualities but a different skillset to Read.

Recently, however, 27-year-old Read isn't the only Crusader to provide the go-forward, although it has again been a season disrupted by injury - what was considered a minor foot problem against the Kings in March turned into a six-match absence.

One of the positives of the Crusaders' lift in form and intensity is that there are now several who can provide the momentum Read does. Prop Wyatt Crockett and lock Sam Whitelock have taken their running and offload game to new levels and the entire backline looked a constant threat in the dismantling of the Reds last weekend and Chiefs a fortnight earlier.

Gaps were created by the Crusaders' incisiveness and enthusiasm when running with the ball and Read acknowledged his teammates had eased the pressure on him by creating alternatives.

"It certainly does," he said.

"If you analyse teams and see where the go-forward comes from you can shut it down. I think the team as a whole has been attacking really well.

"It starts with the set piece. Getting go-forward and winning gain line is so important and carrying positively lends itself to that."

The alternatives his teammates are providing suggest Read could be even more of a danger tonight, particularly when running in the wider channels where he can create the most havoc.

It was also his try from a 5m scrum on the stroke of halftime which allowed his team to get a foothold in the previous match between the two teams - the 43-15 win for the Crusaders in Christchurch.

He scored a second try in open play after the break.

In last year's semifinal defeat, the first play-off match the Crusaders have lost outside South Africa, the Chiefs' defence was too good against an attack which tended to be too lateral.

The Crusaders' kicking game, headed by Dan Carter - who saw an attempted clearance charged down by his opposite Aaron Cruden in the Chiefs' round-robin win in Hamilton in late May - will need to be much improved.

Coach Todd Blackadder conceded his team had been outcoached in the first encounter, with the Crusaders returning the favour in the second.

While one team's season will end tonight, Read, who made his Crusaders debut in 2007 and won his first and only title a year later, said not being able to play last year hadn't necessarily made the match more significant for him.

"The significance is that it's a semifinal and that's huge for us and obviously must-win if we want to win that championship. I know the guys are up for the challenge and it will be a big one.

"We've gone up there a couple of times in the last few years and lost."

For the Crusaders, who have always had a solid defence, continuing that new-found enthusiasm for running with the ball could help them tip the balance their way.

And for Read, fit and well and with a lighter load on his shoulders these days, that enjoyment factor is key.

"Winning and performing on the track is where you get your enjoyment from. We've been enjoying turning up to training and enjoying the ride with each other and we just want it to continue."

- APNZ

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