Formidable Crusaders reload for the playoffs
WELLINGTON – As if a 10-try demolition of the team rated the second-best in Australia was not enough to send shivers through the rest of Super Rugby, the Crusaders will be well rested and at full strength when the playoffs start in two weeks.
The nine-times champions put on a scintillating display of running rugby on Saturday at Rugby League Park in a 66-0 destruction of the Melbourne Rebels that ensured they would enjoy home advantage throughout the playoffs.
They also have a bye for next week's final round of matches and coach Scott Robertson has already said he does not want to see any of the players until they officially begin preparations for the quarter-finals.
"Full week (off). Reload week, really freshen up," Robertson told reporters in Christchurch of his plans for the players for the next week, although he admitted they would use social media to stay in touch.
"It's good. But we're also aware of last week and how quickly it can change as well."
'Last week' was reference to a 40-27 loss to the Chiefs in stifling conditions in Suva, when the double defending champions raced to a 20-0 lead then forgot how to tackle.
That loss capped off a run of below-par performances and Robertson said it had probably come at the right time in terms of focusing the players and coaches ahead of the knockout stages.
"The Chiefs was timely and we made it timely for ourselves with our review last week," he said.
Conditions on Saturday, however, were the polar opposite with temperatures in single figures and a cold wind swirling, something that has helped the side turn their home ground into a fortress.
The Crusaders have not lost at home since their final regular season match against the Wellington Hurricanes in 2016, winning 27 of 28 games since with the draw against the Sharks earlier this year the only minor blot on their copybook.
Robertson will also be able to call on injured All Blacks front rowers Owen Franks (shoulder) and Codie Taylor (finger) for the playoffs.
That will strengthen an already imposing pack who know how to exploit the cold and damp conditions and are considered the best in the competition.
"To win a championship, a lot has got to go right," Robertson said. "Full squad, full team.
"To give every chance to go through in that finals series, you need to have the opportunity to pick your best squad.
"In just over a week's time, we've got some big decisions about our squad with Owen Franks coming back, Codie Taylor coming back as well."Reuters