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No excuses from injury-riddled Crusaders with history on their side

By AAP
Leicester Fainga'anuku of the Crusaders is tackled by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck of the Blues during the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific Final match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on June 18, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Scott Robertson has backed his injury-hit Canterbury Crusaders to “rise to the occasion” against the Auckland Blues after losing Ethan Blackadder and lock Zach Gallagher for Friday’s Super Rugby Pacific semi-final.

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In his first match since March, All Blacks flanker Blackadder lasted only a few minutes in the quarter-final win over Fijian Drua before limping off with a quadriceps injury.

Robertson confirmed Blackadder would join a raft of All Blacks ruled out for the rest of the Crusaders’ bid for a seventh championship trophy in seven years.

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“We really feel for him, he trained so hard to get back,” Robertson told New Zealand media on Wednesday.

Gallagher injured a calf against the Drua, leaving the defending champions short in their second-row stocks, with All Blacks lock Sam Whitelock still sidelined.

Captain Scott Barrett and Quinten Strange will start in the second row, with Dominic Gardiner covering lock from the bench in the matchday squad named on Wednesday.

The Crusaders’ injury woes have boosted the Blues’ chances of ending the hosts’ run of 28 playoff wins in Christchurch.

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But outgoing coach Robertson backed his team to stand up.

“I think any Crusaders team that’s named will rise up to the occasion, it’s going to be a hell of a weekend, it’s got that feeling about it, hasn’t it?” he said.

“It’s a physical game, we’re going to get injuries … you don’t want to start getting in the excuse bin.”

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All Blacks flyhalf Richie Mo’unga, who suffered cramp against Drua and exited early, retains the No.10 jersey against a Blues team in far better health after a dominant quarter-final win over the NSW Waratahs.

All Black Caleb Clarke returns to the left wing after recovering from an ankle injury, joining a nearly full-strength Blues line-up.

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The winner of Friday’s clash will meet either the Waikato Chiefs or the ACT Brumbies in the final. The Chiefs host the Brumbies in Hamilton on Saturday.

The Blues ended an 18-year losing streak in Christchurch last year against the Crusaders but then lost the championship decider 21-7 at home to Robertson’s side.

The Crusaders have since resumed their dominance, winning home and away against the Blues this year.

“We know we’re going down into enemy territory and are prepared to face the music,” said Blues captain Dalton Papali’i.

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J
Jon 4 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

> it was apparent Robertson was worried about his lack of experience at half-back, hence the decision to start veteran TJ Perenara and put Finlay Christie, the next most experienced number nine, on the bench. I don’t think it was this at all. It was a general scope he was putting over all the playerbase, he went with this cohesion factor in every position. > If the main priority is to build different tactical elements to the gameplan, then Ratima is the man in whom Robertson needs to trust and promote. This also I think is antagonist towards the reference game plans. The other plans do not need the speed of which Perenara (atleast) can’t provide, and I think personal is going to be the main point of difference between these games/opponents. That is the aspect of which I think most people will struggle to grasp, a horses for course selection policy over the typical ‘Top All Black 15’. That best 15 group of players is going to have to get broken down into categories. So it test one we saw Christie control the game to nullify the English threats out of existence and grind to a win. In test two we saw Ratima need to come on which dictated that this time they would run them off their feet with speed and the space did open up and the victory did come. Horses for courses. The same concepts are going to exist for every group, front row, lock and loose forward balance, midfield, and outside backs all can have positional changes that the players may be asked to accentualize on and develop. There might be some that _it_ will not ever click for, but they’ll hopefully still be getting to enjoy unbelievable comeback victories and late game shutouts to close it down. Knowing does not mean not enjoying.

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