Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Convoluted travel plans nothing new for Crusaders

Richie McCaw of the Crusaders runs with the ball during the Super Rugby Qualifying Final match between the Crusaders and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.
Richie McCaw of the Crusaders runs with the ball during the Super Rugby Qualifying Final match between the Crusaders and the Bulls. Photo / Getty Images.

The Crusaders are familiar with semifinals and have also become used to dealing with complicated travel plans.

After their globetrotting antics last year in which they fell at the final hurdle, this weekend presented more of the same. They booked their place into Super Rugby's final four with their efficient dispatching of the Bulls in a 28-13 victory at AMI Stadium last night, which was more comprehensive than the final score suggests, and then switched their attentions to the Sharks' 30-17 thrashing of the Reds in Brisbane.

The victory by the men from Durban saved the Crusaders from an extremely early wake-up call this morning (a five o'clock assembly at the airport) for a flight to South Africa and a date with the Stormers in Cape Town. The capitulation by the Reds, last year's champions, after they beat the Crusaders in the Suncorp Stadium final, did Todd Blackadder's men a big favour. A short flight to Hamilton and a Friday night match against the Chiefs await.

However, even this journey presented problems a couple of weeks ago - heavy fog in Auckland and Waikato forced the Crusaders to land in Wellington, take a flight to Rotorua, and sit on a bus to Hamilton, the seasoned travellers arriving late the night before their gripping 28-21 victory at Waikato Stadium.

"We were fully committed whatever happened," Blackadder said of the travel permutations. "But, yeah, we're happy to be going to Hamilton."

Unfortunately for the Crusaders, they will do so without All Blacks' No8 Kieran Read, who suffered a rib injury in that recent round-robin victory over the Chiefs and hasn't played since.

Blackadder said Read had suffered "tiny stress fractures" in a rib which were healing well but will keep him out for at least another week.

"It is disappointing but I'm really happy with how our loose forwards are going. Richie [McCaw] in particular has been on fire lately."

McCaw, at No8 in Read's absence, is growing into the position by the week. Last night he appeared to be doing both his usual opensider's job plus that of a No8, so effective was he at the breakdown. Flankers Matt Todd and George Whitelock were also highly impressive against a Bulls' pack which in comparison lacked accuracy and intensity.

Throw in the fact that Dan Carter, who kicked 23 points, completely dominated his opposite Morne Steyn, who had a horror night, and the Bulls hardly stood a chance.

The Chiefs, rested and on home turf, will present a much bigger challenge. Blackadder is aware of that and the fact that their lineout probably won't be as bad as it was a couple of weeks ago.

"We've just got to be more clinical than last time. We played well but then let it slip, but to give them credit, they took their opportunities too ... We actually learned a lot from that game, we took a lot out of it.

"They will bring out some new stuff but I really back our set piece. We've been consistent all year there."

There is a resolve within the Crusaders' camp and a quiet belief that this could be their year. Their new stadium in Addington, which was about 4000 short of capacity last night (Sat) has eased the constant grind of travelling following last year's earthquakes, and they were deeply disappointed to lose to the Reds last year following their comprehensive semifinal victory over the Stormers.

There is even the slim chance of the Crusaders, who have made the semifinals of this competition every year since 2002, hosting a final if they and the Sharks win this weekend.

"The Sharks are a very good side - I picked them to beat the Reds," Blackadder said. "They are on a roll and anything can happen but we're not worrying about anything other than this week."

Crusaders 28 (Zac Guildford try; Dan Carter con, 6 pens, drop goal) bt Bulls 13 (Dewald Potgieter, Wynand Olivier tries; Morne Steyn pen). HT: 16-3

- APNZ

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