by Wynne Gray
Tuesday Apr 27,
Captain Richie McCaw is battling sore ribs on the eve of his 100th game for the Crusaders as they search for an antidote to their fortunes this weekend against the Stormers.
The Crusaders face a massive challenge if they are to regain their impetus and qualify for the playoffs for the 12th time in 15 seasons of Super rugby.
All four other New Zealand sides have been well beaten by the Stormers this year and Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder lamented his side's lack of ruthlessness in their 24-16 weekend loss against the Force.
"We really let ourselves down in a couple of key areas. Our destiny is in our own hands and our focus is on what we need to do to win this game," he said.
Instead of trailing the Bulls at the top of the table, the Crusaders' defeat has left them in a massive scrap to make the playoffs with their last three games against the Stormers, Bulls and Brumbies.
Blackadder will need his talismanic captain to be in top shape and his team to be in much better sync if they are to upset the Stormers and get through their miserly defence.
"Richie's still a little bit banged up and will only take a limited part in training today. It is precautionary and he will run around but take no contact," Blackadder said.
The second year coach said his side had an intensive debrief after the weekend and what was needed to fix the faults in Cape Town on Saturday.
"We talked about getting through to the knockout stages of this campaign and basically we have got to win the next three games, so it is as clear as that."
Blackadder said there was no point in worrying about any possible playoff permutations. The task now for the Crusaders was simple; they had to win their next three pool matches.
"We have got a team that is capable of doing that. I know we can turn our season around but we have got to do a thorough job on the basics."
In their weekend loss, the Crusaders turned over possession 24 times at rucks, mauls and lineouts and conceded 16 penalties and free kicks - statistics which killed off their momentum.
Hooker Corey Flynn and fullback Jared Payne have joined the Crusaders after overcoming injuries and they should figure in this weekend's selection.
It was now time for the team to step up a notch.
"Really good teams put others away and never give them the oxygen to breathe and that is something that we did not do and that is really disappointing," Blackadder said.
"We turned over 62 per cent of our possession and all the Force did was keep the ball and we just had to work hard defensively and that took the legs out of us. They are the areas we have to adjust to."
Blackadder said the acid had been put on the whole squad, not just the senior players, to raise their standards this weekend.
The players were physically fresh and it was time they gave a bit back against the Stormers. Cracking their defence would be tough but like the Stormers, the Crusaders would need to play field position in what could become a tactical kicking battle.
They also had to rectify their lineout. It was the second worst in the competition and with the quality of forwards in the Crusaders, that was an unacceptable marker.
"We have put a lot of work in there. One thing with being on tour is there is no excuse for not getting these things right so I am expecting a massive turnaround in the lineout this weekend," the coach said.
It would be a tough task against men like Andries Bekker but the Crusaders would be looking to put some pressure on the Stormers' set piece.
* New Zealand referees boss Lyndon Bray did not think Steve Walsh would be removed from controlling the Brumbies home game this round against the Reds.
The Brumbies were unhappy about Walsh's rulings in their game last week against the Waratahs.
There were problems from both teams at scrums and that would be discussed further at a telephone hookup tonight between Sanzar officials.
* Richie McCaw began his Super rugby career for the Crusaders in 2001.
* The Crusaders finished 10th that season.
* McCaw has played 34 games for Canterbury, 99 matches for the Crusaders and 80 tests for the All Blacks.