Blues ready to have a 'real crack' at Crusaders

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It is one of the most demanding tasks at any time in a season and has the added lustre of having the reward of a place in the final.

Blues coach Leon MacDonald said the semifinal would be enjoyable without the pressure of playing at home.

"We can go down there with a mindset of going to play and having a real crack at them. That sits nicer with us than here[Eden Park] and having the pressure of expectation.

"We''ll go down there and get stuck in, and look forward to that."

MacDonald is relishing not having coached the side for the last time yet. On match day against the Waratahs, he had been hoping it wouldn't be his last day with the side.

"There's another week, and I'd desperately love another one past next week as well.

"All we can do now is the best we can to tick every box we can to give ourselves the best chance."


He said that that started with recovering well over the weekend and then looking forward to the Christchurch challenge.

MacDonald felt some key players were hitting form at the right time. Captain and flanker Dalton Papali'i had his best game of the year. Prop Nepo Laulala showed the benefits of challenges put in front of him by coaches at various levels, especially concerning his mobility.

"You're seeing a guy working hard to get around the field, with some real subtleties in his game. We know he's a devastating scrummager, but he's trying hard to move around the park."

Centre Rieko Ioane had enjoyed an outstanding defensive season, but in the last few weeks, his attacking play was more evident in the more significant impact he was having, especially alongside second five-eighths Bryce Heem.

Waratahs coach Darren Coleman wondered if the Crusaders might be vulnerable.

"I feel like the Crusaders are limping a bit, with a few injuries. It's all about momentum."

He wasn't prepared to offer a prediction ahead of the Crusaders' game with the Fijian Drua on Saturday (won by the Crusaders 49-8).

"But I have a feeling the Blues will go down and give that a good shot."

The Crusaders had the measure of the Blues previously, but the Waratahs had caught the aftermath.

"When they [the Blues] roll forward, there are so many big, talented ball-carriers coming one after the other, they're hard to handle."  

Papali'i said he didn't think the Blues needed to change anything in their play at this stage of the season, and the players were looking forward to their challenge. There was a rivalry between the two sides, and it was a game they always looked forward to it.

"Going down there and getting one against them in a big game…you couldn't ask for a better opportunity.

"The Blues city boys going up against those boys from down south. It gets stronger each year, and the blood gets a bit more boiled after a while." 

SEMIFINAL: Crusaders v Blues, Friday 16 June, 7.05pm, Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch. Tickets on sale at 5pm Monday.


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