Crusaders braced for 'niggle and a bit of chat' in semifinal

rugby15 June 2023 05:32| © AFP
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Scott Barrett © Gallo Images

An injury-hit Crusaders missing All Blacks forwards Sam Whitelock and Ethan Blackadder are anticipating a bruising encounter when they host the Blues in the Super Rugby Pacific semifinals on Friday.

The Crusaders, who are chasing a seventh straight Super Rugby title, have already beaten the Blues home and away during the regular season.

This time they will have to do it without veteran lock Whitelock, who is sidelined for a second week by an Achilles tendon injury.

Loose forward Blackadder hurt his quad in last weekend's quarterfinal hammering of the Fijian Drua. It came just minutes into his return after months out with a calf injury.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett says the hosts will cope without the pair of All Blacks.

"Sam was missing last week too and Ethan was only there for four minutes, so we are used to changes as a team. We are ready to go," Barrett told reporters Thursday.

The Christchurch-based outfit has been hit hard by injury all season with 12 players currently unavailable.

But the Crusaders have made a habit of beating the Blues, who they also saw off 21-7 in last season's final at Auckland's Eden Park.

"Physical and intense" is how Barrett describes recent showdowns with the Blues.

"They will be looking to come down here, upset us and get a ticket for the final."

Barrett expects the visitors to "show up with physicality, possibly niggle and a bit of chat, so we've got to be prepared for that".


A key battle will be at outside half between Crusaders playmaker Richie Mo'Unga and Blues star Beauden Barrett, brother of the opposition skipper.

Mo'Unga and Barrett go head-to-head in the battle for New Zealand's Number 10 shirt.

Both are expected to be included on Sunday when All Blacks head coach Ian Foster names his squad for the Rugby Championship.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald says his side are relishing another chance to break the Crusaders' stranglehold on the Super Rugby crown.

"The challenge of going down there and potentially breaking that unbeaten playoff record is a big carrot and great motivation for us," MacDonald told reporters.

The Blues are boosted by the return of All Black Caleb Clarke from injury on the left wing.

"We're confident. We've been building nicely and there's a bit of continuity with our squad," MacDonald added.

The Chiefs are at full-strength for the other semifinal, on Saturday, when they host the Brumbies with lock Tupou Vaa'i and centre Alex Nankivell returning from injury.

"We have named an experienced side who are fresh, fit and hungry to do a job. Should be a hell of a game," said Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan.

As the only non-New Zealand side in the last four, the Brumbies are buoyed by last weekend's nail-biting 37-33 home win over the Hurricanes in the quarterfinals.

Visiting captain Ardie Savea was denied a winning try in the dying seconds.

It was 23-year-old Brumbies replacement forward Luke Reimer who appeared to slip his hand under the ball to prevent Savea from grounding the ball.

Savea later insisted he touched the ball down, but the Brumbies jumped for joy when the referee ruled he was held up, which sent the Australian franchise into the semifinals.

"Lukey came on and did the job he's been doing all year. He calls himself the game-winner and he showed it again," Brumbies lock Tom Hooper told reporters.

"We're happy to be on the plane over and a lot of thanks to him."