Blackadder and co. deserve plaudits for gutsy decisions and believing in the squad.

There's been a lot of chat recently about the decision-making at the Crusaders - and I was one who was critical of some of their selections for their defeat to the Hurricanes, most notably putting Dan Carter and Kieran Read on the reserves bench.

They made significant changes for their victory over the Blues, and it's time to compliment Todd Blackadder and his assistants for the way they believed in their squad and managed it, for every player made a significant contribution.

A decision such as taking Read off the field after 60 minutes in Christchurch when they were still behind takes guts and an intimate knowledge of their players. It raised my eyebrows when they did but they didn't lose anything with Luke Whitelock coming on. Corey Flynn, selected on the bench, made a really good contribution, as did Johnny McNicholl, although that was a forced change.

During the week the coaches sent the message that McNicholl wasn't playing well enough, with Blackadder using the world "dropped", but both Tom Taylor and McNicholl got chances off the bench and added to what the team was doing.


When Carter moved to 10 after Colin Slade's injury, and all the other changes were made to the backline, that's when they won it. That needs to be recognised. It's easy to be critical and say they got it wrong and they probably did against the Canes, but this week they got it right. They got the very best out of their squad in what was a superb effort.

I thought it was a really good game. Critics of the Blues are probably out of line. Their ball retention was superb. At times they turned the ball over but often that was because the Crusaders were so ruthless on defence, but the home team were pushed to their absolute limit.

I spoke to a few of the Crusaders players on their way to the tunnel afterwards and said "you'll feel that tomorrow", and they said "too right".

The Crusaders' defensive effort won the day, but they were clinical on attack in the second half too. They spent very little time within the Blues' 22m but when they did they came away with points. It showed the character of the team. If they have a semifinal and final at home, they will be very hard to beat.

The Blues threw everything they had at the Crusaders, but the home team refused to yield. In terms of the competition, there's still lots of permutations, but the Blues are almost certainly out of it. The Force's victory over the Reds certainly didn't help the Hurricanes. I can't remember a competition as intense and as close going into the last round where so many teams are still in contention. A challenge for the competition is to try to emulate this closely-fought finish.

In the next couple of years the format will be changed significantly with the addition of three teams. I'm not saying it won't work, I'm saying I'm hopeful it's as close as it has been over the past couple of years and particularly this year. It's certainly a hard one to win - just ask the Crusaders.

In beating the Hurricanes, the Chiefs put in the type of performance they are renowned for. It was true fighting spirit. Their performances haven't been great, they've been plagued by injuries and it's been tough for them. But you couldn't write them out of the playoffs. I don't think they will be daunted at playing against the Blues at fortress Eden Park.