Crusaders confirm Sydney trip to play Rebels for finals push

The Crusaders’ final thrust for a spot in the Trans-Tasman final will take place in Sydney.

Crusaders boss Colin Mansbridge on Sunday confirmed the match against the Melbourne-based Rebels would be played at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday (4.35pm NZT).

Victoria's latest Covid-19 enforced lockdown had already forced Sanzaar to relocate two matches – Highlanders v Rebels and Chiefs v Rebels – to Leichhardt Oval in Sydney’s west.

Unlike the first two relocated games, Saturday’s match was scheduled as a home game for the Rebels.

The Crusaders will depart Christchurch on Thursday, and will know exactly what they need to do to crack the final come kickoff.

The Brumbies pipping the Hurricanes 12-10 in Canberra at the weekend has effectively made it a three-horse race between the table-topping Blues, Highlanders and Crusaders for the final.

As it stands, the Crusaders are third behind the second-placed Highlanders, who edge the Christchurch-based franchise on points differential, +82 to +71.

The Highlanders play the Brumbies at their Canberra fortress on Friday night, meaning the Crusaders will know if they need a bonus point win, and by how much they need to beat the Rebels by, to go past the Highlanders in the standings.

The Blues, one competition point clear atop the log with 19, and with a +109 points differential, host the Force on Saturday night.

It’s a better outlook for the two-times Super Rugby Aotearoa champion Crusaders than on Friday night, when they conceded a soft last-ditch try to cough up a crucial bonus point.

Head coach Scott Robertson was filthy with his team’s lapse, the second time in this competition they’ve conceded late tries at home to have bonus points wiped off the board.

It left him hoping the Blues and/or Hurricanes would drop multiple points, and he got his wish some 26 hours later.

“It's 10 into two, we understand that, we knew it was going to be a points race just as much as a normal competition,” he said.

“We thought 24 [points] might have been about right [to make the final], even though 23 might miss out. We will see, there's plenty more action ahead, it makes it more interesting, doesn't it?”

Robertson refused to criticise the compact competition, one which crimps 10 teams into two after just five weeks, and could result in an unbeaten team missing out on the final.

“That’s the window we had, we knew what it was coming into it. I'm not going to judge the competition. It's how you perform, isn't it? And tonight wasn't probably up to standard, and now we're waiting for others to find out if we are going to be in the top two.”

He was, however, willing to take aim at his team’s performance on a night he rested All Blacks Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock, Sevu Reece and George Bower.

They were particularly poor in the second half, as they struggled to string more than a few phases together without making a mistake or conceding a penalty.

As has been a bit of a theme this season, it meant next to no ball and territory, and a mountain of defensive work.

“It wasn't out finest performance, we wanted to be really disciplined, and we weren't in a lot of areas. Couldn't build any pressure.

“We defended for long periods, unbelievable, then we got down the other end and bang! We're straight back. That's the frustrating thing. We showed a lot of care, but we weren't sharp with the way we played.”

The Crusaders will welcome back the aforementioned All Blacks against the Rebels, and probably loose forward Ethan Blackadder and hooker Brodie McAlister from concussion.

However, hooker Codie Taylor is required to sit the match out due to All Blacks rest protocols.