Vodacom Super Rugby
Crusaders eye emotional win
Sydney - New Zealand's nomadic Crusaders will battle travel fatigue and a resurgent Reds as they look to seal an emotional eighth Super Rugby crown in Brisbane on Saturday.
The Crusaders have notched up more than 100 000 kilometres (62 000 miles) during their indomitable run to the final after the deadly Christchurch earthquake rendered their home ground unplayable in February.
They have dominated the 16 seasons of Super Rugby with seven championships and are now in their tenth final and on the cusp of what would prove to be their most poignant triumph of all.
In contrast the Reds are chasing an elusive Super Rugby title after finishing top of the standings, rising phoenix-like from six seasons (2004-2009) wallowing in the bottom three to host their first Super Rugby decider.
Not even a round trip to South Africa stopped the Kiwi juggernauts as they brushed aside the Stormers 29-10 in last weekend's Cape Town semi-final to set up an absorbing final in Brisbane.
In the process the Crusaders became the first team since 2 000 to win a post-season match outside their own country, when they beat the Brumbies 20-19 in the final in Canberra.
Even local bookmakers have installed the Crusaders as odds-on favourites to make it title number eight although the Reds won their last encounter 17-16 in Brisbane on May 29.
The Crusaders dominated the Reds for 10 seasons before Ewen McKenzie's men pulled off a 41-20 upset in Brisbane last year with mercurial Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper netting a Reds' record 31 points.
Cooper, who displayed a full range of attacking sorcery against the Blues last weekend, is the key man in Saturday's decider.
It was Cooper's last-minute penalty off a Richie McCaw maul infringement in May that snatched victory for the Reds and the Crusaders will be on their guard to snuff out Cooper's running in the final.
"Quade’s just been in unbelievable form. He’s taking on defensive lines and breaking them," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said. "He’s been absolutely sensational."
McKenzie takes no credit for Cooper's freakish skills to unlock rival defences.
"I'm not going to take any coaching credit for that," McKenzie said after the 30-13 semi-final win over the Blues. "That was just pure Quade. I'm still working out how he set up Ben Tapuai's try.
"I said it during the week, the bigger the stage the more he likes it."
But while the Reds have the irrepressible Cooper, the Crusaders have All Black match-winners Richie McCaw and Dan Carter plus the off-loading skills of centre Sonny Bill Williams.
McCaw and Carter have inspired the Crusaders to countless victories over the years and it will be their composure under fire that may be enough to get the Kiwis home yet again.
The Reds for the first time this season have named the same 22-man squad in consecutive weeks.
"At this stage you benefit greatly from continuity and the team we selected against the Blues did a wonderful job and deserve another opportunity," McKenzie said.
"We've accomplished a lot both on and off the field in the past 18 months and a final victory would be an incredible way to cap off this season."
Crusaders scrumhalf Andy Ellis needs to pass a fitness Test as he recovers from knee and shoulder bruising. Kahn Fotuali'i is his potential replacement.
"Defensively, we have to be on top of our game," Blackadder said.
"They’ve got (scrumhalf) Will Genia running around the sides of the rucks with the forwards and they can roll out the back to Cooper.
"When they get on the front foot they have a lot of threats. We have to be defensively sound."
The Super 15 final is set to break Australia's provincial attendance record with an expected crowd of 52 000 at Lang Park.