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Crusaders are repeat offenders

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Crusaders semi-final team near identical to side that bested Hurricanes at the same stage in 2018

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says continuity is the cornerstone of their Super Rugby empire, pointing to how little has changed in the space of 12 months.

The Crusaders starting team to face the Hurricanes in Saturday’s semi-final in Christchurch features only two additions from that which bulldozed the same opposition in the equivalent game last year.

The bench is nearly identical too, with one of the two differences being the presence of 99-game flanker Jordan Taufua, who started last year but has been surpassed this season by Whetukamokamo Douglas.

In contrast, there are just 10 Hurricanes back from the 23 outclassed 30-12.

Stability is no fluke at the nine-time champion Crusaders, who are out to keep their perfect title record under third-year coach Robertson.

Ongoing success has made it harder for players to leave, while roster depth means their raft of All Blacks personnel can be managed through a season with the aim of peaking at playoff time.

Robertson takes comfort from the bonds forged by his players.

“People know each other over a long period of time and have the relationship to deal with pressure moments. It’s really critical,” he said.

Seta Tamanivalu’s right wing berth was the only notable vacancy heading into 2019 and the Crusaders filled it with electric competition leading try-scorer, Sevu Reece.

It will be more of a challenge next year after senior All Blacks Kieran Read, Ryan Crotty, Sam Whitelock and Owen Franks have left to play offshore, along with Taufua.

Robertson’s focus this week is on combating a Hurricanes team who he notes boast their usual quote of X-factor players through the likes of Ardie Savea and brothers Beauden and Jordie Barrett.

However, the visitors have also shown more grit this season, Robertson believes, with their 35-28 quarter-final win over the Bulls their ninth this season by 10 or less points.

“The Hurricanes have found a way,” he said.

“We know how good they can be on their day and the strength of individual players to open the game up and create a lot.

“They’ve won a lot of tight games this year and that experience counts.”

Robertson is anxious that the Crusaders be more precise at the breakdown than in last week’s 38-14 quarter-final defeat of the Highlanders.

A dominant scrum to swung momentum their way in the southern derby and that facet of the game, fuelled by an all-All Blacks tight five, is expected to be pivotal against the youthful Hurricanes pack.

– AAP

Watch Crusaders coach Scott Roberston discuss his side’s upcoming semi-final:

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Crusaders semi-final team near identical to side that bested Hurricanes at the same stage in 2018