From one big New Zealand rival to another, the Crusaders are confident they have the players and just as importantly the strategy to beat the Chiefs in Suva after their disappointment in the city last year.
They are also aware of the need to stay disciplined in the face of what is likely to be a fired up Chiefs team, who will be rested after their bye. They feel the Chiefs will push the boundaries at times, with coach Scott Robertson saying Kiwi ref Mike Fraser is the right man to keep the peace.
Fresh from beating the Hurricanes 20-12 at a freezing Christchurch which extended their unbeaten streak to 11, the Crusaders have rolled into a wall of humidity in Fiji and are preparing for the conditions as well for what has become a grudge match.
Last year in this fixture at the same ANZ National Stadium venue, the Crusaders threw the ball arou
Robertson said his side would tailor their game to the weather, and given the way they dominated the Hurricanes on a wet AMI Stadium surface last weekend, he might not mind if it rains.
The key will be the performance of his pack, discipline, and how his side handle the attacking talents of fullback McKenzie.
“Damian’s elusive with his feet and with the ball in hand,” Robertson said. “He’s incredible. We’re well aware of his strengths. We’ve got to be better than good around him.
“We’ve got to keep an eye on him and limit his opportunities.
The discipline side of the equation will be important because of the way the Chiefs have benefited against the Crusaders after testing them in terms of intensity, as Robertson admitted.
“There will definitely be a fine line with the intensity of it and the Chiefs like to live on that line,” he said.
Because of that, and the fact that Scott Barrett has been ruled out for up to three weeks, the return of skipper and lock Sam Whitelock is extremely timely.
Whitelock, up against All Black second row partner Brodie Retallick, will be relied upon to keep a cool head after serving his two-week suspension.
“He’s fresh, real fresh,” said Robertson of Whitelock, who was forced to watch the victories over the Bulls and Hurricanes from the sideline. “Everybody’s trying to pull him back. He’s an energetic man and really clear on what he wants.”
Midfielder Ryan Crotty, who missed this fixture last year, said: “They [Chiefs] have probably had the upper hand over us the last few years. That’s only added motivation for us. We can only control Friday and if we all do our tasks while preparing for what they bring we should be okay. We’re pretty happy with how we’re tracking and we want to keep that ball rolling.”
Crusaders team to play the Chiefs at ANZ National Stadium on Friday:
David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo’unga, Bryn Hall, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd, Pete Samu, Sam Whitelock (c), Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody.
Reserves: Ben Funnell, Wyatt Crockett, Michael Alaalatoa, Quinten Strange, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Manasa Mataele.