Friday, February 26, 2010

Sharks circling reeling reeling Crusaders

There may have been a few tremors in the leafy streets of St Albans that surround Rugby Park in recent days.

Following their shock 20-41 defeat to the Queensland Reds last Friday night, this was not a week for hand-wringing, arms-round-the-shoulders discussions and fireside chats at the Crusaders training headquarters.

Forget that nonsense. This required the delivery of sharp messages that did not stop until they struck the bone.

Publicly, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has remained calm in the aftermath of that train wreck in Brisbane, but you can bet that behind closed doors the sermon was as subtle as a hungry rottweiler savaging a juicy lamb chop.

The rockets will have been launched and Colin Slade, Tim Bateman and Owen Franks will have paid the price by being dropped; more carnage could follow if there is another misfire against the Sharks at AMI Stadium tonight.

Blackadder said: "This is a Crusaders team and we don't take these things lightly. There is a lot of resolve there, there is a lot of belief there and there is lot of resilience there. And we now need to let our actions do the talking."

It was not just the size of the 21-point defeat that proved so humiliating against the Reds. Instead it was the panic-passing, woeful handing, the lack of vigour in defence and surprising lack of passion by the forwards against a side that everyone expected them to beat.

And now for the Sharks, who – despite their opening losses to the Chiefs and Cheetahs in Durban – are, on paper, a tougher unit than the Reds.

Although they have had their share of problems at first five-eighth – Argentinian Juan Martin Hernandez was injured before the season began and Steve Meyer retired just before the tournament kicked off – the South Africans are no lightweights.

Ruan Pienaar again steps into the breach at No10 outside nuggety halfback Rory Kockett and they will look to use their connection with No8 Ryan Kankowski to control the game.

Springboks captain John Smit has returned to tighthead prop to allow the aggressive Bismark du Plessis to start at hooker. The "Beast", Tendai Mtawarira, remains at loosehead.
The Crusaders have brought openside flanker Richie McCaw back to the bench following his layoff.

And Blackadder will demand more from his experienced troops: first-five Dan Carter will be expected to challenge the line more, keep the defence guessing, and run the backline as he did in the opening win over the Highlanders on February 13. He was too quiet against the Reds.

His combination with Ryan Crotty will see them pair up for the first time in the Super 14. Crotty will be charged with taking on the defence.
Although the Crusaders admitted they committed too many numbers to the breakdown against the Reds, the bodies that do rush into the rucks need to do so with purpose.


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