Crusaders geared for set-piece test
The Sharks' highly rated tight forwards can expect a tough examination from a determined Crusaders pack in their Super Rugby showdown.
The Sharks' highly rated tight forwards can expect a tough examination from a determined Crusaders pack in their Super Rugby showdown in Durban on Friday.
A Sharks pack - with Springboks Tendai Mtawarira, Jannie du Plessis, Franco van der Merwe, Marcel Coetzee and Keegan Daniel - will have the edge in terms of experience in the Kings Park cauldron.
However, Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder believes his charges have the ability to "take it up a notch" from last week's dominant performance against an equally impressive Stormers set of forwards.
Despite the absence of veteran hooker Corey Flynn - ruled out after getting poked in the eye during a training drill in Durban this week - Blackadder is backing his men to be up for the challenge.
"You are in for a tough night anyway, but if you don't match them physically you will have problems," Blackadder said in a teleconference from the team's base in Durban.
"You need to get those things [set pieces] right," the Crusaders mentor added.
He said they have a "healthy respect" for the Sharks, beaten finalists last year and a team with some momentum after their record (64-7) win over the Rebels a fortnight ago.
The fact that the Sharks will be rested, after a bye last week, and the Crusaders come off a bruising battle with the Stormers is also not of concern to Blackadder.
"We are ready for the Sharks," he said, adding: "We are as best prepared as we can be.
"We don't fear them, but we will be looking to take our game up a notch from the last week, because it is a different game in terms of how you prepare from the Stormers to the Sharks. It will be a great challenge for us and one I am excited about."
The Crusaders coach suggested the Sharks will be a bigger challenge because they are not as one-dimensional as the Stormers.
"If you look at the Stormers, basically their whole game is based on defence," Blackadder said, adding: "The Sharks certainly have more of a balance and they probably have one of the most potent loose trios in the game.
"They do move the ball a bit more and I am expecting them to cut a bit loose.
"Our challenge is to put their whole tight five under pressure and from there create pressure on the [Sharks] loose forwards.
"It is going to be a good battle for our loose forwards, because I feel the game is always won or lost up front."
Two players who will be crucial to the Crusaders' cause is veteran prop Wyatt Crockett and young lock Sam Whitelock.
Blackadder was impressed with how easily Crockett switched from loosehead to tighthead in the last few weeks - having started on the left hand side of the scrum and then shifting to other side midway through.
Last week Crockett played almost 60 minutes at tighthead, after seasoned All Black Owen Franks left the field injured towards the end of the first quarter.
Blackadder suggested Crockett's influence at Newlands had largely gone unacknowledged and described it as a "phenomenal" effort.
"If you look at the amount of pressure he puts on opposing teams and the amount of work he does around the field - it was great," the coach said.
However, Blackadder said Franks had made a speedy recovery from the rib injury that forced him off the field and had been able to train hard all week.
Crockett played down his ability to switch roles midway through a game and described it as "a little bit daunting".
"It has been building a bit in the last three games - 20 minutes, 40 minutes and then 60 minutes," Crockett said of his weekly mid-match shift from loosehead prop to tighthead in the last three weeks.
"It was a little daunting, seeing that the opposition front row were still fresh [at Newlands last week], but I had good guys around me and that helped me and gave me some confidence."
Blackadder was also full of praise for Sam Whitelock, one of four Whitelock brothers that will feature against in the starting XV against the Sharks - George (at 26 the oldest and also the captain), Adam (25), Sam (24) and Luke (22).
The manner in which Sam Whitelock dominated a Stormers line-out with veteran Springbok Andries Bekker in it earned him rave reviews.
Blackadder said Sam Whitelock had reached a new level of maturity.
"It was a world-class locking performance," the coach said, adding: "He dominated [Springbok lock] Andries Bekker and the Stormers line-out and has taken his game to a new level."
By Jan de Koning