Crusaders unchanged for final

Boosted by the news that Kieran Read and Owen Franks will be fit to face the Lions in the Super Rugby final, the Crusaders must now play the game of their lives in front of 62,000 hostile fans at Ellis Park.

Despite No 8 Read limping off with a knee injury with several minutes remaining in the 27-13 win over the Chiefs in the semifinal in Christchurch last weekend, and tighthead prop Franks having to be replaced at halftime by Mike Alaalatoa because of an Achilles tendon complaint, the two All Blacks have been confirmed as starters for the match in Johannesburg on Sunday morning.

Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar noted Read and Franks had been carefully managed since the team arrived in South Africa, guaranteeing the same 23 will take the park for the third week running.

"They have worked through the week, and have been good to go," Mooar said. "We were confident when we got on the plane that it would be the case, and it turned out to be that."

Given the Crusaders were forced to travel within hours of beating the Chiefs, they know they have to be meticulous with their preparations if they are to achieve what the Hurricanes could not.

Having watched the Canes blow a 22-3 lead and lose 44-29 at Ellis Park in the semi, the Crusaders accept they must play smart at 1700m above sea level.

A monumental defensive effort against the Chiefs saved them at AMI Stadium; forced to make in excess of 200 tackles, the Crusaders were able to survive off scraps of possession and limited territory but it seems unlikely they could weather another savage beating like that in the rarified air on the high veldt.

In addition to having to sack the Lions driving mauls before they can splinter their defensive line, they must be accurate with their tactical kicking; giving away the ball too easily, and being forced to chase the game in the final quarter, could mean their chances of bringing the silverware back to Christchurch could be remote.

"They showed what they could do when they got their momentum going," Mooar said in reference to the Lions comeback against the Hurricanes.

"I think the Hurricanes had probably just blown their legs out a bit early, and certainly took their opportunities. But at the end of that first half that is when the game shifted in favour of the Lions.

"We are confident we have got a plan to exert pressure on them, and relieve pressure on us. And we have got a group of guys that can do that."

Afternoon footy, under a clear sky and a hard ground, will be in stark contrast to what the Crusaders have had to grind their way through in the wet New Zealand winter.

While eager to counter-attack, something that has enabled them to profit and chop through holes in opposition backlines this year, they must conserve their energy levels.

"They (Lions) have got a really strong final quarter," Mooar acknowledged. "It is obviously something they work towards and the ability to save your legs is really involved in how well we control the game. And if we get our game management right, we will probably find we will be running to where we want to - rather than chasing them around.

"I am sure the Lions are going to have their moments. And we will have to take some pressure. How we rebound from that … is going to be critical."

CRUSADERS: David Havili, Israel Dagg, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Seta Tamanivalu, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Sam Whitelock (captain), Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Mike Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, George Bridge.


Photo by: PHOTOSPORT Caption: No 8 Kieran Read, having been listed to start for the Crusaders against the Lions in Johannesburg on Sunday morning, is searching for his second Super Rugby title.