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

Justin Marshall: Crusaders miss suspended Nadolo's substantial impact

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Nemani Nadolo has one game of his three-match suspension remaining and will be back to play the Blues. Photo / Photosport
Nemani Nadolo has one game of his three-match suspension remaining and will be back to play the Blues. Photo / Photosport

The Highlanders match against the Crusaders in Dunedin was the blockbuster we knew it would be, and while the home side deserved to win, Todd Blackadder's men played their part too and I still think they're a quality outfit.

This was an entertaining, passionate, drama-filled game in front of a capacity crowd and it has already be analysed by many, so I won't go into it too deeply, apart from saying the Crusaders clearly missed wing Nemani Nadolo.

You never want to say that one player can influence a team to the extent of being the difference, but I think Nadolo will make a big difference when he returns from suspension for his tip tackle against the Brumbies in Canberra.

He has missed two matches, and will miss next weekend's against the Waratahs, but will then be free to play against the Blues at Eden Park, and Blackadder might be counting the days.

Like Waisake Naholo, who has made such a difference for the Highlanders over the past fortnight in their wins over the Chiefs and Crusaders, Nadolo asks so many more questions of the defence.

Still top of the table despite their loss, the Crusaders will be even more dangerous when they get him back.

Having said that, the Highlanders were the best team on the night and deserved their win. They were outstanding.

There isn't as much quality in the Australian conference, with the Waratahs and Brumbies grinding out wins; no team across the Tasman is really making statements. There's not a lot for the top teams to fear from them.

One of the best teams in South Africa is making waves, though, and they're the Lions. I picked them to beat the Blues, but not by that margin.

They are a very good and entertaining side, which they showed by beating the Chiefs in Hamilton, and while they had a dip in form against the Hurricanes, if they're on their game, they're great to watch.

The Blues were given a hiding and it wasn't a good one to lose given the way the Chiefs, Highlanders, Crusaders and Hurricanes are playing. If they had won that, they might have been a chance for the playoffs but I think that chance is gone now.

Nadolo will make a big difference when he returns. He asks so many more questions of the defence.

Should they make wholesale changes for their team against the Force next week? I don't know because the Blues don't seem to have the luxury of depth that the other New Zealand teams have.

And that's another question. Why doesn't the New Zealand franchise with the biggest population base have better depth?

If I was Tana Umaga, that would be a major question I'd want answered because there's no doubt that college rugby is strong enough.

As the big teams jostle for position in the moving month of May, questions are being asked about how the conference system is working. Obviously we're seeing the dominant Kiwi teams mostly ahead of others in terms of points.

Are we going to be denied a team in the playoffs like the Crusaders last year who had more points than a few others who made the finals? Probably.

Is that great for the competition? No, I don't think so because ultimately we want the best and most consistent teams in the playoffs.

From here, the pressure will intensify. The top New Zealand team is likely to lead the competition at the end of it, but the fourth team might be in danger of missing out.

- NZ Herald

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

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

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