Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall's Chalkboard: Early heat on Crusaders

Corey Flynn (L) of the Crusaders talks to Matt Symonds (R) of the Chiefs after the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.
Corey Flynn (L) of the Crusaders talks to Matt Symonds (R) of the Chiefs after the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.

Not a chalkboard column as such today, but a piece on the single-most important diagram, now and always, in Super Rugby - the points table.

You might think that with the 2014 season so new, the points table is largely irrelevant. It's not.

It's all about pressure, points-table pressure, and already, with the competition just two rounds young for the New Zealand teams, the Hurricanes and particularly the Crusaders are feeling it big time.

That has the potential to have a knock-on effect for everything they do, from general confidence around the camp to selection. Already I believe you're seeing that at the Crusaders with the way they have dealt with Israel Dagg and their inability to settle on a first five-eighth.

This is a team that expects to make the playoffs, whose fan-base expect even more than that.

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They're looking at the Chiefs sitting back enjoying their bye week, knowing that no matter what they do against the Stormers in Christchurch they cannot pull back their lead.

It might be early, but these sort of things gnaw away at your confidence. The Crusaders are the only New Zealand team to lose a game at home this season. That also puts them on the back foot. They're already be targeting some overseas games as must-wins, just to claw back some of that lost ground.

A couple more losses and they start to think about having to travel for the playoffs. A few losses and they start to contemplate the unthinkable. You might think the Crusaders tradition or culture makes them immune to points-table pressure, but they're not.

You have to cut Mark Hammett's team some slack. Nobody finds it easy to win in South Africa and they looked pretty solid against the Stormers, but the Hurricanes don't even have that winning culture to fall back on.

They're in the slightly unusual situation of almost coming into this competition through the back door. They've managed to escape the media scrutiny of the Crusaders but that's going to change now, especially if they lose to a Brumbies team rejuvenated by their win in Perth against the Force.

The Brumbies will be better rested having not had to travel as far as the Hurricanes and will be targeting this match as one they win. They will know the Hurricanes, not known for having the toughest underbelly, will be particularly vulnerable. The reason? Points-table pressure.

I believe that pressure is having an effect at the selection table. The talk around the country has been the lack of game time for dynamic flanker Ardie Savea. Without being privy to Hammett's thinking, you get the feeling he has decided that with zero wins from two, what he doesn't need is youthful enthusiasm; what he needs is experience.

He'd be forgiven for thinking that his team are going to be tired, under pressure and they need their leaders out there and Jack Lam, one of their best players in South Africa, is certainly that.

If you think these teams are feeling the heat already, imagine the changing room temperatures if they don't start winning this weekend!

- NZ Herald

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