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    Crusaders intensify playoff bid

    2013-07-04 14:20
    Kieran Read (Getty)

    Wellington - The Crusaders say they are treating Friday's clash against the table-topping Chiefs as a "semi-final", as they look to secure a berth in the Super Rugby playoffs.

    Going into the penultimate week of the round-robin series, the Crusaders are among eight teams battling for the remaining three places in the top six.

    Only the Chiefs, Bulls and Brumbies are assured of qualifying while the Crusaders, Reds and Cheetahs are best placed to grab the remaining places.

    The Waratahs, Blues,  Sharks, Stormers and Hurricanes are mathematical possibilities but are reliant on other results.

    The Crusaders, currently in fifth place, need to beat the Chiefs, then defeat the Hurricanes in the final round next week to secure fourth place and a crucial home playoff.

    Both the Crusaders and Chiefs welcome back several All Blacks who were rested last week after the Test series against France - with Kieran Read, Wyatt Crockett, Owen Franks and Luke Romano starting for the Crusaders and the Chiefs regaining Sam Cane.

    "All you can do is to make sure the intensity is right and you give your all," Crusaders' captain Read said.

    "Our mental shift is that this is a semi-final and a game that has to be won."

    The clash also serves as a de facto All Blacks trial in key areas.

    The Crusaders' Matt Todd lines up against incumbent Test openside flank Cane, discarded World Cup scrumhalf Andy Ellis faces emerging international Tawera Kerr-Barlow while Dan Carter clashes with his heir apparent playmaker Aaron Cruden.

    The Cheetahs, who have a guaranteed four points from a bye next week, need to make amends for last week's setback at the hands of the Stormers when they play a weakened Blues side who are without injured halves Piri Weepu and Chris Noakes.

    The Cheetahs lie sixth, five points adrift of the Crusaders, two clear of the Blues and Waratahs and four ahead of the strongly finishing Stormers and Sharks.

    The Waratahs, like the rest of the Australian sides, have a bye this week as Australia play the British and Irish Lions in the third and series-deciding final Test on Saturday.

    The Stormers head to Port Elizabeth on Saturday needing to beat the Southern Kings before their final hurdle next week against the Bulls who have already won the South Africa Conference.

    Stormers coach Allister Coetzee said his side must not be complacent after their impressive 28-3 win against Cheetahs a week ago.

    "I was obviously very pleased with the Cheetahs game, and it gives one confidence, but our plan has always been to win these last three games; that's where the focus is."

    The Sharks, needing to win their last two starting with the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday to have a chance of qualifying, are no strangers to relying on a late surge to get them through.

    Co-coach Grant Bashford is eyeing maximum points against the Bulls and then the Kings next week.

    "Anything less than that won't be good enough. We thought we were out of it, but thanks to the results of last week, we feel we have a realistic chance."

    The Sharks beat the Blues last week. If they defeat the Bulls and the Blues beat the Cheetahs, it would intensify the competition for sixth place going into the final round.



    15 Israel Dagg, 14 Tom Marshall, 13 Ryan Crotty, 12 Tom Taylor, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Kieran Read (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6 George Whitelock, 5 Sam Whitelock, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.

    Subs: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Luke Whitelock, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Tyler Bleyendaal, 22 Telusa Veainu.


    15 Robbie Robinson, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 Asaeli Tikoirotuma, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Tawera Kerr-Barlow, 8 Matt Vant Leven, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam, 5 Brodie Retallick, 4 Craig Clarke (captain), 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Pauliasi Manu.

    Substitutes: 16 Mahonri Schwalger, 17 Ben Afeaki, 18 Michael Fitzgerald, 19 Tanerau Latimer, 20 Augustine Pulu, 21 Andrew Horrell, 22 Tim Nanai-Williams.

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