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

Rugby: Classy crusaders given clues on stopping Canes

Israel Dagg of the Crusaders passes the ball in the tackle of TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes during the Super Rugby Match. Photo / Photosport
Israel Dagg of the Crusaders passes the ball in the tackle of TJ Perenara of the Hurricanes during the Super Rugby Match. Photo / Photosport

As the Crusaders travelled home from South Africa after their two bonus-point victories which kept them at the top of the Super Rugby table, they wouldn't have needed much more inspiration as they thought ahead to their clash against the Hurricanes at AMI Stadium.

Scott Robertson's men are in stunning form and going to new heights seemingly by the week.

But if they did need an extra confidence boost ahead of this anticipated clash tomorrow against one of the best attacking teams in the competition, a glimpse at the Chiefs performance in grinding down the Hurricanes in Hamilton in round three might have provided it.

On that wet March night at Waikato Stadium, the Chiefs put the Hurricanes in a stranglehold the visiting backs struggled to break. Dave Rennie's men also dominated the Hurricanes pack, and it's here the Crusaders will have an advantage.

The remarkable thing about Robertson's rejuvenation of the Crusaders is that they seem to have so many more weapons at their disposal now.

They have an All Black-laden pack, minus the suspended Sam Whitelock, which is rumbling on as usual, but they also have a far sharper attacking edge, one that can go through teams rather than around them.

They also look extremely fit - their sharpness on the Highveld against the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in their 10-try victory was extraordinary, with first five-eighth Richie Mo'unga and midfielder Jack Goodhue particularly impressive.

The weather in Christchurch tomorrow is likely to be very cold but dry, so the Hurricanes backs, ignited by the irrepressible Beauden Barrett and with midfield muscle in Ngani Laumape and Vince Aso, will get their opportunities, but the Crusaders' line speed on defence will aim to make life difficult for that trio.

An example of that could be seen in the opening 10 minutes of the Crusaders victory over the Stormers in Christchurch in round nine when the home side hardly touched the ball but the Stormers, smashed time and again by a hard-charging wall of red and black, were spooked.

They effectively lost the game in the next 30 minutes, with the Crusaders running in five tries for a 36-3 halftime lead.

The brutal defence was completely legal but also highly intimidating and it sent the message to the Stormers players that they should be wary about where they chose to ran.

A loss for either the Crusaders or Hurricanes wouldn't be disastrous, as both will make the playoffs, but it would disrupt both teams' winning streaks, and both are fighting for top spot in order to qualify for home advantage through the finals series.

The Crusaders, unbeaten this season, are on 10 in a row, while the Hurricanes have won all six of their matches since that Chiefs loss.

Both teams are missing their regular captains. The Crusaders will be without lock Whitelock, while hooker Dane Coles remains out with concussion. How effectively both teams handle those absences could play a key part in the result.

The Chiefs have become the Crusaders' traditional rivals in recent years, but the Hurricanes could have claims here, too.

The Hurricanes have won four out of the last five games between the teams.

Neither side likes the other and they will have the opportunity to settle their differences in the return game in Wellington on July 15, their last round-robin match of the season.

Metaphorical fireworks are likely, and could come from the first whistle.

- NZ Herald

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