As a former Crusader and assistant coach at Super Rugby’s most successful franchise, Leon MacDonald knows better than most about the response that could greet his Blues at Eden Park on Friday.
After two rounds the Blues are above the three-time defending champions following a brilliantly composed performance in Newcastle which earned them a 32-12 victory over the Waratahs and an off-key Crusaders fell 25-15 to the Chiefs in Hamilton.
But MacDonald knows his side will have to lift again to face a different type of challenge, one which will almost certainly include the artistry of Richie Mo’unga after Scott Robertson elected to take a cautious approach to the recovery of the All Blacks and Crusaders No.10’s knee and groin strains.
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The Crusaders will be working hard to fix the uncharacteristic errors which haunted them at Waikato Stadium, a series of mistakes eagerly seized upon by a Chiefs side under Warren Gatland which is playing with an enthusiasm reminiscent of their runs to their 2012 and 2013 titles under Dave Rennie.
Defeats are rare for Robertson, who has encountered only six during his three-and-a-bit seasons with the Crusaders, and they tend to provoke a response.
“That probably adds a bit of flavour,” MacDonald said of the upcoming derby. “I know Razor will do a good job at finding some solutions and probably getting them on edge. They’ve always rebounded well after a loss, especially in Razor’s tenure. We always expect them to turn up with their best and that’s the way we’ve got to prepare.”
That the Chiefs needed to pull off an extraordinary comeback to beat the Blues at Eden Park in round one may also add a little confidence to MacDonald’s men.
In Newcastle they once again showed their scrum has the potential to hurt teams and with impressive North Harbour wing Mark Telea scoring a hat-trick and No.8 Hoskins Sotutu clearly blessed with a full range of skills – it was his perfect grubber through the defence which allowed Telea to score his first try – the Blues are not short of attacking weapons even allowing for Rieko Ioane’s broken hand.
“By and large it was a big step forward, especially with our energy around the field on attack and defence,” MacDonald said. “Our kick-chase was high energy, we contested really well at the wide breakdowns and put a lot of pressure on there. Every time they tried to exit, we were off the line and in their face.
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“We showed a lot of tenacity and a little bit of relentlessness which was something we had talked about. That was the most pleasing thing. We stayed with that intensity right to the end. If we have that every week we’re going to be a challenge for anyone.”
Telea’s final try came after the 80 minutes were up and earned his side the bonus point; a case of high ambition being fulfilled via a high standard of execution and the latter isn’t something the Blues have become well known for.
“Mark is a great story – he’s come a long way in a short time,” said MacDonald. “We saw him in Mitre 10 Cup firstly and through pre-season training and he’s in amazing physical condition. He’s a quiet guy by nature but has really come out of his shell the last few weeks.
“It was sitting there ready to come out and it’s always pleasing when guys can show everybody else just how talented they are.”
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