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Crusaders

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Super RugbyIt is the Semi-Finals of Super Rugby 2014 this weekend! We have only the 2 Semi-Final games in this Round, as all the other 11 teams have now been dispatched. Both games take place on Saturday 27 July 2014.

It is crunch time, as only the winners advance to the Final on 2 August 2014.

The Crusaders and Waratahs host the Semi-Finals, as top contenders on the Combined Super Rugby Log. The challengers are the Cell C Sharks and the Brumbies, who have had to travel in order to see if they can advance against strong home ground advantage, for the Final.

Only 3 Super Rugby games for 2014 remain!

Bonus points for tries and losses within 7 now does not matter anymore, all that is needed is a win.

Let the games continue….

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SuperBruSuper RugbyRugby-Talk’s SuperBru competition for the 2014 Super Rugby tournament is drawing to a close with only three matches remaining.

In last week’s Qualifying rounds JohnR earned the yellow cap with a solid 5 pointer moving him up 12 places to 31st. Carol still leads the pack of hungry wolves chasing at her heels, but refuses to relinquish her coveted 1st spot. Sharks_Lover is still a close second, with less than a point separating the two.

Both Winston Champ and Charo at 3 and 4 respectively have fallen slightly off the pace, with 3,5 and 5,2 points separating them from Carol.

Before making those SuperBru predictions, let’s have a look at some picks, tips and predictions first.

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Pat Lambie

Pat Lambie

The Cell C Sharks team named by Director of Rugby Jake White shows a number of changes from last week’s line-up, albeit not in any major disruptive way as the team prepare for Saturday’s Vodacom semi-final showdown with the Crusaders, reports Sharks website editor Michael Marnewick.

With Anton Bresler falling foul to a knee injury against the Highlanders in last week’s quarter-final win at Kings Park and not making the journey to New Zealand, Willem Alberts shifts from flank to the second row, with his place on the side of the scrum taken by Jean Deysel.

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Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder, coach of the Crusaders

It’s a very fine line between hero and zero. No one is more acutely aware of that than Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

There was a time at this stage of the season when the Crusaders were unstoppable. Not any more.

Making it to this point has been something of a meritorious specialty for the last 13 years. However, for all the criticism that is directed his way, Blackadder is the first to admit that he has won nothing.

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Richie McCaw

BACK: All Blacks skipper Richie McCaw has been named to return from injury in the Crusaders starting lineup for their Super Rugby semifinal against the Sharks

Richie McCaw has been named at blindside flanker and Corey Flynn will start his 150th Super Rugby match when the Crusaders meet the Sharks in Saturday night’s semifinal in Christchurch.

All Blacks captain McCaw, who hasn’t played since carrying a fractured rib into the third test against England on 21 June, has predictably been named at blindside flanker to allow the in-form Matt Todd to start in his specialist openside flanker role.

Flynn has been elevated ahead of Ben Funnell, who started the previous two matches against the Highlanders and Blues, in the only other change to the run-on side that thumped the Highlanders 34-8 at AMI Stadium on 12 July.

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Nemani Nadolo

LEADING THE WAY: Nemani Nadolo’s speed and strength has boosted the Crusaders this year – helping to push them to the NZ conference title

Former All Blacks fullback Greg Cooper can’t believe Nemani Nadolo is yet to unwrap one of his deadliest tricks.

Cooper, who coaches Nadolo at his Japanese club NEC Green Rockets, hasn’t been surprised the Fijian wing has been a sensation at the Crusaders this season but reckons he can offer even more.

While everyone knows how effective Nadolo can be with the ball in hand, Cooper says one of the best ways to expose defences is to sling cross-kicks to his left wing and reckons there is an 80 per cent chance of scoring if it is executed correctly.

“He is the best winger I have ever seen when taking the ball from cross-kicks,” Cooper, speaking from Japan, emphasised.

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Chris Boyd

INSIDER KNOWLEDGE: Chris Boyd, who will coach the Hurricanes next season, was an assistant at the Sharks in 2009 and 2010 under John Plumtree

Former Sharks assistant coach Chris Boyd doesn’t expect to see the South African side resorting to cynical behaviour or niggle to unsettle the Crusaders.

The Sharks caused a 30-25 boilover when the teams last met in Christchurch in May but they had to do it the hard way, playing 64 minutes with 14 men.

Poor discipline plagued the Sharks with loose forward Jean Deysel sent off after stamping on the face of Crusaders opposite Jordan Taufua. Fellow flanker Willem Alberts was sinbinned in the second half for a professional foul.

Boyd, who will coach the Hurricanes next season, was an assistant at the Sharks in 2009 and 2010 under John Plumtree.

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Sharks forwards pack

The powerful forward pack of the Sharks and especially their driving maul, seems to have the Crusaders on edge

Wyatt Crockett sounds like a physics teacher as tries to de-mystify the complicated task of demolishing the Sharks’ mauls.

Few things are as difficult to stop as a turbo-charged lineout drive, yet Crockett emphasises that if the Crusaders’ forwards are organised they should fear little in Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal at AMI Stadium.

Splintering a maul, usually off a lineout, requires technique and a pinch of luck, as well as a referee who can spot a dodgy truck-and-trailer routine.

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Tabai Matson

NO TRICKS: Crusaders defence coach Tabai Matson expects Sharks coach Jake White’s game plan to play to their strengths

Tabai Matson would hoot with laughter if a Sharks’ insider offered to sell Jake White’s game plans this week.

Crusaders defence coach Matson expects nothing tricky from Sharks coach White in Saturday night’s Super Rugby semifinal and anyone trying to convince him otherwise risks being dispatched with a sharp tap to the temple.

“His [White] team plays to their strengths and they are very clinical with what they do,” Matson says. “They have a few things on the menu and they cook it very well.”

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CrusadersCell C SharksThe Waratahs and Crusaders will be heavily favoured to advance to a Sydney final, but the two Vodacom Super Rugby play-off qualifiers played this weekend did breathe some much needed life into a competition that is sometimes accused of being too predictable.

As expected, the home teams did advance to next week’s round of semifinals, but it was a close run thing in both Canberra and Durban. More than that, the quality of rugby produced, and the entertainment value, was just what the doctor would have ordered if the goal of a medical consultation was to find out what could increase interest for the remaining two weeks.

Of the two winning teams, the Brumbies and the Sharks, it is the former who should go into the semifinals feeling most upbeat. They relaxed when they thought they had the game won and the Chiefs showed their championship qualities one last time before eventually conceding their run of success had come to an end by launching a brave, gutsy and classy fightback.

Once condemned to playing catch-up, the Chiefs produced some of their best rugby in a while, and may well have won had they shown just a bit of temperance in their commitment to attack, for it was their tendency to concede penalties in their own half by trying to play too much rugby there that cost them the game.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

All Black captain Richie McCaw is likely to start for the Crusaders in their Super Rugby Semi-Final against the Sharks in Christchurch on Saturday.

McCaw, who has not played since fracturing a rib while captaining the All Blacks against England last month, took part in the Crusaders’ training session on Monday.

Assistant coach Tabai Matson said that McCaw only needed to emerge unscathed from training over the next two days to confirm his place in the side for the match at AMI Stadium.

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Anton Bresler

The Sharks travelled to New Zealand without Anton Bresler, who suffered broken ribs against the Highlanders

Jake White believes the Sharks can win in Christchurch for the second time this season.

The Sharks beat the Highlanders 31-27 at Kings Park on Saturday to set up a semi-final showdown with the Crusaders. While the long plane trip will count against White’s side, he believes they can win in Christchurch on Saturday, having done so earlier in the season when they played most of the match with 14 men.

“It’s an 80-minute run and if we play well we can win, and I have to believe that,” said White.

“The Highlanders flew in from the other side of the world and came within four points of beating us. They came sixth on the log and we came third.”

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw is expected to be declared fit for next week’s semi final clash

The return of Richie McCaw to the Crusaders for their semifinal next Saturday will present coach Todd Blackadder with a dilemma. Where to play him?

For Blackadder, it is a good problem to have, but someone within the hard-working and talented loose forward trio of Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua and Kieran Read is about to be disappointed, and it isn’t likely to be No8 Read, judged last year as the world’s best player.

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New Zealand Conference
For those who might have watched the episode of Boots & All on Thursday 17 July, you might have heard John Mitchell refer to an article he read surrounding the New Zealand teams and conference.

Rugby-Talk exclusively brings you the article in question, and we must agree with John, it does make for some interesting reading.

Just how level are the current playing fields in Super Rugby, if all sides don’t face the same opposition, and what are the possible consequences thereof on the final standings?

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CrusadersIt’s the same every year; judgement calls made in February and March.

For the past 13 seasons, another predictable outcome is that the Crusaders will make the playoffs, despite dire predictions in the early rounds. I noted on several forums that a few “fans” were picking that Todd Blackadder would be the first kiwi Super Rugby coach to be sacked mid-season.

While I don’t always agree with the former All Black captain’s selections, clearly he must have done a few things right to get his team to the top of the New Zealand Conference.

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Todd Blackadder

Todd Blackadder has welcomed the extra week break

Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has welcomed having an extra week off to prepare for his team’s Super Rugby Semi-final clash at home in Christchurch. The Crusaders finished the regular season in second place which guarantees them extra week while the Sharks, Brumbies, Chiefs and Highlanders battle it out. How Blackadder manages the players over the next two weeks will be crucial as they look to reach their first final since 2011.

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Richie McCaw

Richie McCaw

The Crusaders are on track to have All Black captain Richie McCaw fully recovered in time for their Super Rugby semifinal.

Their convincing victory over the Highlanders in Christchurch at the weekend has secured the Red and Blacks top spot on the New Zealand conference, meaning they’ll miss the first round of the play-offs this coming Saturday.

Coach Todd Blackadder has told Newstalk ZB that McCaw is recovering well and should make for a timely return from a rib injury.

“He’s probably a week away,” Blackadder said.

“He probably would be ready to take contact at the end of this week and so he’ll be ready for that.”

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Special EditionSuper RugbyLike every fine season of Super Rugby, all is not revealed until the final weekend of the regular season, and the 2014 campaign, and 19th tournament overall of the Southern Hemisphere’s premier provincial competition, will be no different.

However congratulations must be offered to the Waratahs, who offered one piece of clarity over the weekend with their 44-16 win over the Highlanders.

With that, the Waratahs has for the first time qualified as the top-ranked team after the regular season, and become the ninth franchise in history to finish as ‘minor premiers’.

For coach Michael Cheika and his troops, this will be a significant fact even though he was quick to remind all who would listen that the Super Rugby Finals Series would be another step up for a team that looks the goods.

However, as Cheika correctly pointed out, there will be teams with more experience at this stage of the season and this is a crucial factor for potential champions.

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sam Whitelock

Sam Whitelock

Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder has made just one change to his team to face the Highlanders this Saturday night in a battle for the New Zealand Conference.

Sam Whitelock, who was a late withdrawal from last week’s team, has returned to the starting line-up, which means Jimmy Tupou is on the bench. The remainder of the line-up is the same as the one that defeated the Blues last weekend.

Eighteen weeks of competition culminates in this southern derby. It is the final round of pool play and will determine log placings and qualifiers for the Super Rugby Finals Series.

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Craig Dowd

Craig Dowd

Craig Dowd, writing in his latest column seems to think that the Crusaders are once again peaking at the right time.

The Crusaders cop a lot of criticism, and I suggested last week in assessing the New Zealand Super Rugby teams that they “don’t look like a title-winning team”, but, really, you can’t fault them; yes, they have the fewest bonus points of the New Zealand sides, but they always turn up at the end of the year with enough points to qualify for the top six. At the end of the day, what more can Todd Blackadder do?

As a coach he gets shafted because someone like Dan Carter has taken a sabbatical – last year, Richie McCaw did the same – and then he loses Kieran Read with concussion worries and injury. But he is still developing new players and bringing them through. And yet poor old Todd gets criticised for the Crusaders not winning finals, but they are still the conveyor belt of New Zealand rugby.

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Special EditionSuper RugbyThe Cell C Sharks will be the only South African team contesting the Vodacom Super Rugby playoffs this year after the Vodacom Bulls slipped up in Cape Town on Saturday afternoon, shortly before the KwaZulu-Natalians’ title hopes were dealt a blow in Bloemfontein.

The team from Durban dropped one position to third on the overall standings after their shock defeat by 27-20 to the Toyota Cheetahs at the Free State Stadium. It was arguably the team from Bloemfontein’s best performance of the season as they moved up from the last spot on the log to 14th.

Earlier on Saturday afternoon, the DHL Stormers recorded the fourth-ever clean sheet in a local derby when they beat the Vodacom Bulls by 16-0 at DHL Newlands. Just before the June-break, the Capetonians did the same when they beat the Toyota Cheetahs by 33-0 in Cape Town.

It will be only the third time in the last 10 years that the Vodacom Bulls will not feature in the playoffs.

The other two times a South African side failed to score any points in local derbies, were in 1999 when the Cell C Sharks beat the Vodacom Bulls by 29-0, while the team from Pretoria beat the Southern Kings by 34-0 last year.

In total, it was the sixth time ever a South African team were kept point-less in Vodacom Super Rugby and the Vodacom Bulls’ third zero. The Pretorians lost 27-0 to the Crusaders in Timaru in 2011 and the DHL Stormers lost 22-0 to the Crusaders in Cape Town in 2008.

On Friday evening, the Lions recorded their sixth win of the season when they beat the Rebels by 34-17 at Ellis Park, meaning 2014 will go down as the most successful for the team based in Johannesburg since the Cats franchise was dissolved before the 2006-season. Their previous best was five wins in 2007.

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Kieran Read

Kieran Read

Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Israel Dagg

Israel Dagg

Nemani Nadolo

Nemani Nadolo

Kieran Read, Dan Carter, Israel Dagg and Nemani Nadolo all return to the starting line-up for the Crusaders this weekend when they take on the Blues at AMI Stadium.

They are four of six new faces in the starting 15.

In the forwards, Ben Funnell and Owen Franks have taken starting spots in place of Corey Flynn and Nepo Laulala, who will be ready to inject some energy off the bench.

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Dan Carter

Dan Carter

Kieran Read

Kieran Read

The stage is set for Dan Carter and Kieran Read to take command of the Crusaders for the final rocky weeks of Super Rugby, but coaching staff are cagey about the duo’s prospects of starting against the resurgent Blues.

All Blacks flyhalf Carter, working his way back after a six-month sabbatical, and number eight Read came off the bench in the second half against the Hurricanes on Saturday but were powerless to stop their side falling to a 16-9 defeat.

The disappointing loss in Wellington has prompted calls for the pair to be thrown straight in against the Blues, who re-ignited their season with a confidence-boosting rout of the Western Force last week.

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