The Chiefs have to lift their game to a much higher level if they are to match the Crusaders and give their title aspirations some real legitimacy.

It is a clash that always tends to bring out the best in the Chiefs and its outcome on Saturday night could well prove to be season-defining for Warren Gatland and his men.

It's only round two, granted, but what's on the line here could have long-term consequences.

This Crusaders side is no joke. Its depth and winning consistency are legendary and a part of their success has been a thirst to dominate all who stand in their way, not merely win games week to week.

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It's a different mentality, potentially one the Chiefs could look to adopt.

Going against the mind of Warren Gatland won't phase the Crusaders in the slightest.

They've got Scott Robertson as their director general, a pretty fine coach with a fantastic record in his own right, they've hit the ground running in far more conclusive fashion, they've comprehensively out-classed every other Super Rugby side for the past three years.

The Chiefs cannot say the same. Failing to match the Crusaders will leave the Chiefs looking like they are mere pretenders who managed to spark at the right time to down a Blues side that was tactically and mentally awful when defending a decent lead.

Losing on Saturday night isn't the end of the world for the Chiefs, far from it. But it would confirm that the status quo in Super Rugby is highly likely to remain. It will confirm that there's the Crusaders… and then everyone else.

A lot of emphasis has been put on what will be a weakened Chiefs forward pack with the winning or losing of the game potentially being in the battle up front. The scrums and lineouts will have to be better than they were at Eden Park, they are major elements to a successful Chiefs set piece that will allow Aaron Cruden to work his magic as general of the backline.

The Chiefs also want to win the midfield battle. Better performances from the forwards would be a big part of that but it won't be easy with two of the leading props unavailable.
Any slight advantage the Chiefs may have had up front is no longer. Now the emphasis goes on how the replacements can go against what still is one of the most formidable front row combinations in the competition.

So, buckle in and get ready. This next 80-minutes of rugby could be massive in the context of the Chiefs season and you sense it would be the perfect time to make a big statement.

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Maybe that's why Warren Gatland was injecting himself into the physical action at training this week. He knows what's on the line here and he's preparing to fire up his troops to ensure that they do to.

â–  Michael Pulman is a freelance journalist based in Hamilton.