Richie McCaw will be back this week for a Crusaders side who say they're fresh, confident and primed for a special Super Rugby semifinal performance in Cape Town.
After despatching the Sharks 36-8 with almost contemptuous ease at Trafalgar Park here last night, the seven-time champions confirmed the All Blacks captain is available for selection following a second spell out with foot problems as they look to halt a run of two straight semifinal defeats in the republic.
And with no fresh injuries out of a match they dominated for the last three quarters, the Crusaders will start the long journey to Cape Town today (via a Sydney stopover) brimming with confidence they can repeat their round-robin victory over the Stormers.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said a muted Sharks challenge had not taken too much of a toll on his side. Besides, it's not like they're not used to a bit of a travel slog and some adversity.
"At halftime the boys were fresh and had hardly broken into a sweat. We just hadn't got our hands on the ball and all we'd done was defend. In the second half we played with a lot more structure. Our guys are pretty fresh," he said.
After confirming McCaw was "good to go", meaning a likely bench role for the outstanding Matt Todd, Blackadder added that he didn't anticipate the travel demands lessening his side's challenge next Saturday.
"We're getting closer to the prize -- this is what it's all about," he said. "The guys are used to travelling, so it's not a problem. We always put a good week together so we'll fly to Sydney, do our recovery, get over there as quick as possible and manage the week well, like we have all season. The travel won't be a factor this week."
Blackadder said he was confident his players would have time to get over any jet-lag. "We'll be absolutely fine next week. There won't be a problem," he reiterated.
Skipper Kiearan Read, who shrugged off a first-half ankle injury to produce a storming match for the Crusaders, was also confident his men had at least one more big performance in them.
"The positive is it's only one week," he said.. "We know we just need to get up for a big game and then hopefully we'll be back for another one.
"We've shown this year we can travel and travel well. We've obviously done well over there earlier this year. The boys will be confident but it's definitely a massive challenge - a lot harder than what we faced earlier in the year."
"We knew what the task was going to be. It doesn't make it any easier and it's always hard playing finals away from home. But we're confident we can do it."
Read said McCaw's return could be huge in such a high-pressure week. "He adds immense experience and we've seen in the past coming back from injury he's sometimes better right from the start."
Blackadder had some high praise for returning wing Sean Maitland ("He acquitted himself really well"), his front row ("That was a great scrum tonight") and Sonny Bill Williams who was in full attack mode throughout.
"Sonny's at his best when he takes on the line and gets those offloads going. I thought he did really well coming back after being out for a couple of weeks."
And as for his supposed "donkey" Brad Thorn, Blackadder could only smile at the criticism levelled by former All Black Andy Haden. "
"Brad is a quality player and what you see week-in, week-out is the performance he puts in out there. Tonight he wins his lineout ball, he's a good ball-carrier, a great scrummager, and he cleans rucks. I don't have to talk about Brad, he's not under pressure. I'm sure he's going to be in the All Blacks."
- Fairfax Media