Friday night's crunch Rebel Sport Super 14 clash against the Brumbies in Christchurch cannot come soon enough for the Crusaders, according to head coach Todd Blackadder.
Despite losing all three matches on the road and having to make the long haul back from South Africa last weekend, Blackadder was encouraged by the 80-minute performance against the table-topping Bulls in their 13th round match at Pretoria despite the heart-ache of losing it in stoppage time.
But the two points the Crusaders took from that 40-35 defeat has kept them in the semi-final race in sixth place and if they can overcome the fourth-placed Brumbies at AMI Stadium in the last preliminary round they will make the last four for a ninth straight year.
Blackadder said the Crusaders had been forced from their comfort zone and he had never witnessed a more determined team than the one sitting in their changing room after the Bulls scored a controversial try in injury time to snare a fortuitous win.
He said that he had a near fully fit squad and there was a buzz about the team as they completed their preparations for the must-win match against the Brumbies.
The Crusaders have made two changes to the team which lost to the Bulls. Seasoned lock Chris Jack gives way to the emerging Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks will join elder brother Ben in the front row in place of Wyatt Crockett, who was regularly penalised in the scrums by South African referee, Marius Jonker, last week.
The only other change is in the reserves where halfback Kahn Fotuali'i has been stood down for a game after breaching team protocol after the Bulls match. He has been replaced on the bench by Willi Heinz, whose three Super 14 appearances have been off the bench.
Backs coach Daryl Gibson said after the Crusaders final practice on Wednesday that Jack had undertaken a heavy workload recently and had started the last five matches.
"It's more about giving Sam an opportunity – Chris has been good for us over the last two or three games.'Gibson believed the Brumbies would be more offensive in their defence than the Bulls and hinted that the expansive game employed by the Crusaders against the Bulls might be reined in a little."
Without giving too much away, obviously there could be a kicking option somewhere along the line.'The Crusaders and Brumbies have enjoyed healthy competition since the start of Super rugby in 1996. They have clashed on 17 occasions, including three times in finals, with the Crusaders ahead over all, 9-8, but a telling factor is that the Brumbies have not won in Christchurch since their round-robin match in 2000.
After winning that game, 17-12, the Brumbies lost the final by a point to the Crusaders in Canberra and their last five visits to AMI Stadium have all ended in defeat including a 33-3 loss in 2006 and a 34-3 loss two years ago.