Crusaders told to keep emotions in check
July 8, 2011
Blackadder plots the Reds' downfall alongside assistants Daryl Gibson and Dave Hewett © Getty Images
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has warned his side that games are not "won on emotion" ahead of their eagerly-anticipated Super Rugby Final showdown with the Reds in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Crusaders have defied the odds to reach the season finale having played every game on the road in the wake of the earthquake that devastated their Christchurch home back in February. The plight of quake-tormented Cantabrians and the motivation their suffering provides his team has been a key topic as their unprecedented road trip reaches its conclusion, but Blackadder has demanded his players keep their emotions in check.
Blackadder said while the events of February 22 and the on-going trauma in Christchurch has been an effective rallying point the squad had to focus exclusively on preventing the Reds blighting what would be a remarkable achievement at the Suncorp Stadium.
"There's a lot of emotion and these games aren't won purely on emotion," warned Blackadder, who led the Crusaders to the first three of their seven championships. "That's (the earthquake) a motivation but we've got to be clinical when it comes to executing the game plan and delivering a performance on the field."
Veteran lock Brad Thorn's availability during in an otherwise closely monitored pre-match build-up was an astute move by the Crusaders management. The 36-year-old wears his heart on his sleeve and, as an adopted Queenslander, he also had empathy with the state's flood crisis in January and tomorrow is his Super Rugby swansong.
In the absence of Daniel Carter and Sonny Bill Williams he struck a chord though the All Blacks lock will be relieved to return to the second row and let the Crusaders' superstars emerge from a week of virtual anonymity.
Carter and Williams have been in seclusion since arriving from Cape Town. And now there could hardly be a more opportune time to do their talking on the pitch. Both will have to play decisive roles if the Crusaders are to upstage the Quade Cooper show in a much-anticipated sequel to the Reds' 17-16 victory on May 29.
Williams was surprisingly ineffectual against the screen constructed by the unheralded Ben Lucas and Ben Tapuai. His combination with Robbie Fruean looms as a critical offensive weapon when Cooper retreats to fullback as the Crusaders initiate a set piece.
Carter, meanwhile, has his own point to make now his game is constantly weighed up against Cooper, his heir-apparent as the code's premier playmaker. Their duel will be the second of five potential meetings in 2011 - the 28-year-old shaded his young pretender in game one, round 15, but it is the Tokoroa-born stepper that is attracting all the superlatives after mesmerising the Blues last weekend.
His goal kicking might currently be inferior to Carter's but there is no denying Cooper's ball playing can be breathtaking. Cooper has also maintained a low profile this week but there will be no disguising his impetuous nature alongside the clinical, calming influence of halfback Will Genia.
Despite the gravity of the occasion, Cooper vowed to persevere with his high-risk, ad-lib attacking game, setting the scene for a spectacle to rival the Wednesday's State of Origin rugby league decider.
"No changes will be made, that's how we've played all year. Our mindset is always to go out there and express ourselves. Where better to do it than in front of 50,000 people in a massive backyard?" he asked.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie, a pragmatic prop in his playing days, was looking forward to Cooper's match-up with Carter. "Carter's influence on the game over time is probably without peer. Quade is doing it a different way and with different skills. He'll get there too. It will be fascinating to see who gets their game plan on the park in this final," he said.
Cooper's freedom of expression will be governed by the his forwards ability to lay a platform - one area where the Crusaders appear dominant. The Crusaders scrum made a statement against the buckling Stormers eight in Newlands last weekend; it is no secret a repeat performance and the ability to exploit a vulnerable Reds lineout underpin the Crusaders strategy to squeeze Cooper.
"We have to get the scrum, lineout and kicking right so he doesn't get time and space," captain Richie McCaw said. "He's like anyone, you put skills under pressure and mistakes come."
McCaw and Blackadder were forced to grit their teeth in the aftermath of a controversial by Australian referee Stuart Dickinson when the two sides met in May but the Crusaders skipper was more philosophical yesterday when asked if the outcome still gnawed away.
"It's disappointing, but you put that behind you because we have an opportunity to turn things around," he said. "I know the guys are pretty motivated, perhaps there's a wee bit of an edge there because we were tipped up here a few weeks ago."
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