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The Blues' big work on ahead of crunch showdown with Crusaders

By Tom Vinicombe
Adrian Choat receives a yellow card. (Photo by Andrew Cornaga/Photosport)

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The Blues may have survived a late-game onslaught from the Brumbies but they face a somewhat more formidable challenge next weekend when the Crusaders come to town.

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The Brumbies came within a whisker of grabbing a shock victory on Saturday night, succumbing 20-19 after finding themselves 13 points at the halftime break. Had the Brumbies been able to pull off the heist, they would have become the first Australian side to ever score a victory in a New Zealand-hosted Super Rugby play-off match.

The Crusaders, on the other hand, have enjoyed plenty of success at Eden Park in recent year. In fact, not since 2014 have the Blues tasted victory over the Crusaders in Auckland.

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Although the Blues will enter next Saturday’s fixture as the top-seeded side and did manage to score a win in Christchurch earlier this season – their first in almost two decades – it would take a brave man to suggest the home side will be favourites to take home the crown, given the Crusaders’ exceptional finals pedigree.

One way or another, however, the match-up is one that many fans have been eyeing up for some weeks now – and should serve as a fitting finale to the first-ever edition of Super Rugby Pacific.

“It’s the game that everyone’s wanted and that we want,” Blues captain Beauden Barrett said following the victory over the Brumbies.

“Obviously, [we’re] a little bit relieved about tonight but also satisfied. We bounced back really well in the first half there, showed that we play some good rugby. Obviously the conditions and a little bit of discipline let them back into the game tonight but they’re a quality side and they’ll never go away, the Brumbies.

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“Now that we’ve put them to bed, the thought of next week’s pretty exciting.”

It’s that discipline that could prove the Blues’ undoing if the Auckland side aren’t careful.

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The Blues lost two players to the sin-bin in the second half of the semi-final, hooker Kurt Eklund and flanker Adrian Choat, while they were at risk of seeing another man receive his marching orders late in the piece when the penalties started racking up while on the defence deep inside their 22.

When the Brumbies scored their third try of the match – and their second from a driving maul – the Blues forwards almost seemed to step back and accept an inevitable score for fear of being penalised and having to forge ahead with another man on the sidelines. The Crusaders, like the Brumbies, boast an impressive driving maul and if the Blues are forced to play with men in the bin next Saturday, they could find themselves under immense pressure.

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“The couple of yellow cards there, both for poor tackles and then a few compounding penalties, we were under the pump there with maul defence and so on,” said Barrett. “All in all, I think our defence is pretty good in the middle parts of the field so it’s just about keeping them out discipline-wise and we were aware of their threats in that area and we know how clinical they are so that’s kind of what it came down to, just trying to hold them out there.

“I think we’ve had a lot of good ‘what if?’ moments in the last two weeks and we need to learn well from those moments in order to be a little bit more clinical against a quality Crusaders side. So how well we review will be important and there’ll be some good lessons there tonight, particularly around the last 30 minutes and closing out the game and how important discipline will be.

“There’s a little bit of relief that we got away with it tonight but there’s also a lot of satisfaction in working hard for each other, trusting each other. We’ve done it all season.”

Despite playing in their first full-competition final since way back in 2003, Barrett says the Blues won’t make any significant changes to the week in preparation for the big dance on Saturday night.

“We need to be confident – absolutely,” he said. “We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing all season and that’s preparing really well, enjoying our week and just giving it our best shot because that’s what we’ll be doing next week, coming out here, enjoying the occasion and if our best shot isn’t good enough, that’s the way it’ll be.

“It’s so excitiing to get the opportunity and pretty sure it’ll be a near full house next week and what more could we ask as a Blues player?”

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