Memo: The Crusaders. Careless kicks cost tries.
Subjugating their forward pack is still viewed as the most effective way to destroy the Highlanders, although their ability to strike back through counter-attacks, especially via inaccurate kicks, remains a nasty reminder they are no longer a one-trick show.
It was a painful lesson the Blues failed to absorb when they were beaten 27-20 by the Highlanders at Eden Park last weekend. Sloppy kicks to fullback Ben Smith, whose form may earn him a recall into the All Blacks squad on Sunday, were expensive, and he is expected to be given licence to counter-attack and link with wings Hosea Gear and Kurt Baker and midfielder Tamati Ellison tonight.
"You can talk about their ability up front and attack the breakdown, but they are very much a team that plays with good width and has a go," Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis said. "They can get into the wide channels and counter-attack as well.
"In a lot of ways we can stop it at source with our set piece if our set pieces can get up and take a lot of their game away from them."
Ellis' ability to rain dangerous box kicks down on isolated wings have been one of the Crusaders' strengths this season, especially when his chasers can compound the recipients' misery. The All Blacks No9 has also been involved in the unusual scenario of training alongside his opposite, Aaron Smith, at the All Blacks training camp in Wellington this week.
Smith's rise has spelled the end of Jimmy Cowan's All Blacks career and he will link with English club Gloucester.
Cowan's relegation to the bench has also denied spectators a possible sidebar to the main fare.
Previous encounters have involved Cowan baiting Ellis, which has resulted in the pair indulging in a verbal and physical tussle, but the more mild-mannered Smith seems unlikely to prod his opponent.
"I try not to worry about what the other No9s get up to," Ellis said. "Jimmy was a special sort of fellow. I will just be going hard, trying to push my forwards and get them on the right page. That will make my job so much easier and I will be in for a good ride. We have got the forwards to do it."
Given the value of competition points at stake tonight it is highly unlikely relations will be cordial for the 80 minutes – especially for the Crusaders following their forwards' limp effort in the 27-24 defeat in round two in Dunedin and their defeat in Nelson last year.
"We are due one. We just cannot allow them to dominate us at the breakdown," Ellis said.