Force face Crusaders backlash
Force face Crusaders backlashSHARE
The seven-time champion Crusaders are in a dog-fight in the Super Rugby play-off race, following their third loss of the season.
The Chiefs and Brumbies 'share' first place (on 29 points), but below that it is a real scrap – just five points separating position three from eight and five points between sixth place (the play-off cut-off) and 10th.
Sitting in eighth place after their 17-21 loss to the Sharks last Friday, the Crusaders are now targeting a host of bonus points in their bid to make up lost ground.
Both coach Todd Blackadder and stand-in captain George Whitelock agreed that the weekend's loss could hurt them in the run-in to the play-offs.
"From our own perspective,, we are three [wins] from six [starts] and caught up in the middle of the pack," Blackadder said in a teleconference as his team headed out to face the lowly Western Force in Perth on Saturday.
"From here it is going to be very tough," the Crusaders mentor said, adding: "It will go down to the wire and there will still be many twists and turns – there is still a long way to go [in the competition].
"It certainly shows you that you have to be up for Super Rugby week in and week out, you really have to nail your opportunities."
Whitelock, speaking in the same teleconference, admitted that they will need to start picking up extra bonus points along the way.
"We spoke about it in the shed," he said about the loss to the Sharks, adding: "We were disappointed, because we were really in that game and we felt that we sort of let ourselves down by not playing [well] in that second half."
He said they were particularly disappointed with their attack.
"We struggled to get our shape going [on attack]. We seem to [just] spread it wide, when every now and then we can take it up [the middle] and make them work harder on defence – it is just our structure on attack."
He said the race for play-offs has become "very tight" and no team is really out in front.
"These [losing] bonus points [they picked up on against the Sharks] and those four-try bonus points that we pick up along the way are going to be crucial at the end of the season," Whitelock said.
"It is very tight and that is why things like goal-kicking is so crucial, as we saw against the Sharks."
He dismissed the suggestion that the 13th-placed Western Force, with just one win from seven starts, could be easy pickings.
"Traditionally it has been tough in Perth," he said of a record that shows just one Crusaders win in four visits.
"We'll show the Force a lot of respect, otherwise we'll find ourselves one [win] from three [matches] on tour and that will be very disappointing.
"The key will be to get up and put out a performance to be proud of."
By Jan de Koning