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

Rugby: Sanzaar defend Crusaders' delayed travel schedule

Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo is set to miss the quarter-finals with an injury. Photo / Getty
Crusaders wing Nemani Nadolo is set to miss the quarter-finals with an injury. Photo / Getty

Super Rugby organisers Sanzaar have defended a travel schedule which sees the Crusaders having to wait until Tuesday before leaving Christchurch for their match against the Lions in Johannesburg.

The final draw for the first week of the playoffs wasn't known until about noon today once the Jaguares v Lions match in Buenos Aires was finished, and Todd Blackadder's men are the victims of a shortage of flights to South Africa.

Their New Zealand rivals the Chiefs were scheduled to fly from Auckland to Cape Town via Sydney at 6am tomorrow for their quarter-final against the Stormers. "It's not ideal, but this is tournament play, and if the Crusaders had won [against the Hurricanes] then they wouldn't be in this position. Their destiny was in their hands to a certain extent," Sanzaar communications manager Greg Thomas told the Herald today.

Blackadder, who saw his team humbled 35-10 by a Hurricanes team which have topped the table following a monumenal final round to the season, was taking a philosophical view to the organisers' logistical challenges.

"If anything it will give us a chance to freshen up and allow us to take a fit team away," he said.

The Crusaders were booked on their long-haul flight after a second-string Lions team failed to gain a competition point against the Jaguares after holding a 10-point lead at one stage.

But, despite the Crusaders having to mark time at their Rugby Park base, all four New Zealand teams are entitled to feel confident about progressing to the semifinals.

The Hurricanes will feel especially good about themselves after thrashing the Crusaders at AMI Stadium and then watching as the Highlanders did them a favour by beating the Chiefs 25-15 in Dunedin, and the Lions self-destructed in losing 34-22 in Argentina.

It means the Hurricanes host the Sharks in their quarter-final on Saturday, with the Brumbies, who looked ordinary in holding off the hapless Force 24-10 in Canberra, hosting the Highlanders. The Hurricanes' No1 seeding means they will host the final if they make it that far, just as they did last year when they tripped up against the Highlanders.

The Chiefs and Crusaders face the toughest challenge of the New Zealand teams due to their trip to South Africa to play the Stormers and Lions respectively and further further blows for them are the loss of some key players following their torrid matches in Dunedin and Christchurch.

Chiefs' midfielder Seta Tamanivalu has been ruled out due to a knee injury, and Blackadder will be missing key backs Andy Ellis, who strained a calf in the build-up to the Hurricanes' defeat, and giant wing Nemani Nadolo, who strained a hamstring during it. Both are likely to have played their final match for their team - Ellis is retiring after this season, and Nadolo is heading to France.

Blackadder said lock Sam Whitelock, who took part in the warm-up at AMI Stadium, but was ruled out due to illness, was likely to travel.

There will be regret from Blackadder and his Chiefs counterpart Dave Rennie that their teams lost, but that may pale into insignificance compared with the disappointment of Lions coach Johan Ackermann, who took a huge risk in taking a severely depleted team to Buenos Aires.

He hoped to freshen up his squad in preparation for a home quarter-final, and his side needed only a losing bonus point to remain top of the table and a home match against the Sharks, a team who have struggled recently in Johannesburg.

Instead, the Lions' mix of hubris, inexperience and poor discipline resulted in a crushing defeat. They gave up 24 unanswered points to the Jaguares and will now host the Crusaders, who beat them convincingly in the round-robin, instead.

If the four New Zealand teams win their quarter-finals, the Hurricanes will host the Crusaders in one semifinal, and the Highlanders will host the Chiefs in the other - a replay of the final, dramatic, round of the regular season.

2016 Super Rugby quarter-final draw
Fri at 8pm: Brumbies [4] v Highlanders [5] at GIO Stadium, Canberra
Sat at 7.35pm: Hurricanes [1] v Sharks [8] at Westpac Stadium, Wellington
Sun at 2.30am: Lions [2] v Crusaders [7] at Ellis Park, Johannesburg
Sun at 5am: Stormers [3] v Chiefs [6] at Newlands, Cape Town
* Regular season finish in brackets

- NZ Herald

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