Crusaders on Reds alert
July 6, 2011
Fly-half Quade Cooper is just one part of an impressive Reds armoury © Getty Images
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder is well aware his side will have their hands full against the Reds in Saturday's Super Rugby Final at Suncorp Stadium.
The Reds powered their way to top spot in the Super Rugby standings and No.1 seeding in the play-offs on the back of an all-action brand of rugby that accounted for the Crusaders - 17-16 in the regular season. Referee Stuart Dickinson's decision to award a match-turning penalty during that game drew the headlines but it was the Reds' ability to breach the Crusaders' defence has Blackadder concerned.
Dickinson's controversial judgment tended to disguise the fact the Reds twice pierced the Crusaders defensive screen - once through a brilliantly executed planned move and again by the intuitiveness of a playmaker extraordinaire. And to illustrate the danger the re-born Reds pose, neither try was conceived by man-of-the-moment Quade Cooper.
The Reds first five-pointer was based on positioning captain James Horwill at the tail of the formation and his transfer to Will Genia who in turn fired an inside ball to midfielder Ben Tapuai. Both passes were line ball at best - even Tapuai looked guilty as he crossed the line. However, there was no quibble with the Genia's strike after half-time when he probed down the unpatrolled blindside after the Crusaders pack monstered their counterparts.
The Reds ability to strike from two areas of perceived weakness - a vulnerable lineout and shaky scrum - emphasised how vital it is for the Crusaders to maintain their defensive structure - and not become obsessed with Cooper's twinkle toes and sleight of hand. Blackadder surprised no one today when declaring: "Defensively we have to be on top of our game."
Since that narrow loss in Brisbane, the Crusaders have won four straight games - including sudden-death matches with the Sharks and Stormers - and conceded just four tries. Rene Ranger and Charlie Faumuina crossed for the Blues, the Hurricanes were held try-less while Willem Alberts started the Sharks forlorn trip to Nelson by finishing a break out by halfback Charl McLeod. Last weekend in Cape Town the Stormers Bryan Habana managed the only breach when a tap penalty close to the line caught the Crusaders backtracking.
Still, Blackadder was delighted with the defensive effort at Newlands, though cautioned it would have to be repeated during their second crack at the Reds. "I thought we lifted a gear and took it to a new level and we're going to have to be even better again," he said. "The Reds pose different threats (to the South Africans). They've got Genia running round the sides of the rucks with the forwards and they can roll out the back to Cooper. When they get on the front foot they have a lot of threats. We have to be defensively sound."
Although the Reds are capable of carrying out a conservative game plan, notably in Cape Town and a miserable Hamilton this year, Blackadder doubted counterpart Ewen McKenzie would deviate from the counter attacking blueprint that overwhelmed the Blues last Saturday. "They'll keep playing to their strengths, a counter attacking, continuity game. They've got great launch power, they showed that last week against the Blues when they cut through and scored an easy try," said Blackadder, as he joined the Cooper fan club.
The Wallaby fly-half's mesmerising burst to produce Tapuai's try even impressed the former hard grafting lock. "Quade's just been in unbelievable form. He's taking on defensive lines and breaking them. He's been absolutely sensational."
Meanwhile, there was nothing sinister in Crusaders strike weapon Sean Maitland sitting out training today, it was purely precautionary as the competition's joint leading try-scorer continues his comeback from a foot injury.
Maitland missed five matches with the injury but made a seamless return to the back three when the finals series started - his intercept try against the Stormers was his ninth of the season, drawing him level with Bjorn Basson (Bulls) and the Cheetahs' Sarel Pretorius.
"Sean's good as gold," Blackadder said. "He's come through (the injury) pretty well but now's not the time to be overworking him on a hard ground."
Scrum-half Andy Ellis will also be included in the starting line-up tomorrow pending a fitness test on his injured shoulder while reserve lock Luke Romano finally arrived in Brisbane last night after his departure from South Africa was delayed when he contracted chickenpox.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor