Bombs away for Crusaders’ quarter-final
Israel Dagg knows a fool would rely on luck to win a finals match. So does Crusaders team-mate Matt Todd.
Both have played in excess of 100 Super Rugby games, but like the majority of their team-mates, have never earned the right to party through the night after a final and greet the dawn chorus with a delirious smile.
Of the current squad only Kieran Read, Wyatt Crockett and Tim Bateman were on the club’s books when they beat the Waratahs in the final at Lancaster Park in 2008. Yes, it’s been a while hasn’t it?
A win over the Highlanders in the quarterfinal in Christchurch on Saturday night would fuel the Crusaders’ fire, allowing them to advance into the semis and host the Stormers or the Chiefs.
It also inches them closer to the glory that men like right wing Dagg and flanker Todd have plotted for, and discussed, each pre-season since they joined the Crusaders in 2011.
So what salient lessons have they absorbed from their previous nearmisses, which includes losing the 2011 and 2014 grand finals?
‘‘Yeah, it is a tough question,’’ Dagg said.
‘‘I have spoken about it this week, it is about the small moments. If you can win those it goes a long way to winning finals footy.
‘‘You saw last week (when they lost 31-22 to the Hurricanes), we switched off for a few seconds and they scored tries. It’s about staying ‘on’ for the full 80.’’ It was a sentiment echoed by Todd. ‘‘It goes back to execution, when you get chances you have got to take them. When we get down there, we need to take points … We have to make sure are disciplined, and don’t get side-tracked by the occasion or caught up in the pressure.’’ Relying on the heroics of Seta Tamanivalu and Mitchell Hunt in the final moments, as the Crusaders did when they beat the Highlanders in their round-robin games, would be a dangerous option at what is expected to be a soggy AMI Stadium.
As he watched the rain tumble down on Friday, Dagg expected his opponents to imitate the precipitation with their kicking game.
‘‘We know the Landers love the contestable kicks, so the outside backs have spoken about that,’’ Dagg said.
‘‘If we don’t go out there and act excited and give it our best, we are going to be packing our bags and getting ready to run some blocks and do some fitness next week.’’
Until Super Rugby went into hibernation for the test window, the Crusaders took a sledgehammer to everything in their path and won 14 straight.
Three consecutive losses, to the British and Irish Lions, in a ‘‘friendly’’ against the Highlanders in Timaru, and to the Hurricanes last weekend, exposed their vulnerabilities.
Referee Glen Jackson also clobbered them in the penalty count during the defeat to the Canes, and if they give Angus Gardner reasons to embark on a similar feeding frenzy in the quarterfinal they could be in strife.
A win would inch coach Scott Robertson closer to making a dream start to his first year in charge of the Crusaders; now it’s up to the players to stick to the strategies.
Given the predicted wet weather, the game plan is expected to be immersed in detail about how best to use the forwards’ lineout drives, runners close to the rucks and the kicking games of Bryn Hall, Richie Mo’unga and Dagg.
‘‘They (the coaches) know about Super Rugby playoff football,’’ Todd said. ‘‘And they have come up with a plan accordingly.’’