Defeat for the Crusaders against the Hurricanes in Christchurch tonight won't be terminal to their chances of winning the competition, but it could lead to a trip to South Africa, and that might not be the worst of it.

Their only losses this season have come against New Zealand teams - the Chiefs, twice, and the Highlanders. Todd Blackadder's men have beaten the Blues twice this year, but a loss to the Hurricanes in their final round-robin match could leave a psychological scar.

The final standings and draw for the first week of playoffs will only be known once the Jaguares v Lions match in Buenos Aires finishes about noon tomorrow. The Crusaders are capable of getting a result in South Africa should they have to travel there, but their task against probable New Zealand opposition on their return will be made much harder as a result. Playing the Hurricanes, Chiefs or Highlanders away after their trip would all be difficult assignments.

But a win over the Hurricanes could send them as high top of the points table should the Lions lose, and a bonus point would be especially helpful. Interestingly, Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd has made mention of a winning bonus point as his side attempt to finish higher than their current seventh place. The Crusaders are two points and two places better off than the Hurricanes.


The key will be how Todd Blackadder's men can make their probable set piece dominance pay, plus cope with the Hurricanes' line speed on defence. Boyd's team pushed the laws to the limit when attempting, and mainly succeeding, in bullying the Waratahs in Sydney last weekend, and they will want to continue that at AMI Stadium.

Ryan Crotty's return to the midfield will help solidify that area, but the Crusaders have struggled in the face of a fast-advancing and connected defensive wall this season.

"We're confident in our abilities as a forward pack to go out there and dominate this game, and certainly through the set piece," said Crusaders and All Blacks skipper Kieran Read, rested for last weekend's thrashing of the Rebels.

"Most New Zealand derbies have been physical this season and it will probably end up that way again. But we're not going out there to break any rules. There are ways to dominate teams without doing that.

"It feels like a finals week. There's a good hype around the training pitch."

In pushing the Hurricanes close in Wellington a fortnight ago, the Blues may have provided a blueprint for the Crusaders. Tana Umaga's team took advantage of some poor defending to score three tries, and they were dangerous close to the breakdown.

Jerome Kaino's second try in five first-half minutes came when he picked the ball up from the back of a ruck and sprinted in from 35m after the Blues' coaches noticed the home side continually failed to send defenders to that area.

However, the Crusaders will likewise have to be careful about how they attempt to contain first-five Beauden Barrett.

"It's about shutting down space and time for Beaudy," Read said. "He's pretty electrifying, so we have to get bodies around him."