Crusaders target Kerr-Barlow
Hamilton - The Crusaders have singled out Chiefs scrumhalf Tawera Kerr-Barlow as the danger man when the elite of New Zealand rugby open the Super 15 semi-finals this weekend.
The seven-time champion Crusaders play the Chiefs in a New Zealand derby in Hamilton on Friday while the Sharks face the table-topping Stormers in Cape Town in the second semi-final on Saturday.
The Crusaders, who reached the semi-finals with a decisive 28-13 win over the Bulls last weekend, know their way around the knockout stages of the tournament.
They are Super rugby's benchmark side having made the play-offs 14 times in the 17-year history of the competition.
They also beat the Chiefs in their most recent encounter, a round-robin match three weeks ago and also played on the Chiefs' homeground in Hamilton.
It was a match which underlined how, at the business end of the competition, the Crusaders know how to lift their set piece to get the most out of an All Blacks-laden pack and minimise their error rate.
"I really back our set piece. We've been consistent all year there," said coach Todd Blackadder while noting the ability of Kerr-Barlow to ignite a potent Chiefs backline.
"I think their 9 (Kerr-Barlow) is the key to their game," he said.
"He has had an outstanding season and Aaron Cruden and Sonny Bill (Williams) give them all their go-forward.
"But I think if you focus one area you can often take your eye off the ball. They are a complete side. They play smart rugby."
While the Crusaders are a proven force they have not won a title in the past three years, and the Chiefs say they know what is required to win after being outmuscled in their last meeting but only losing 28-21.
"We've had a good look at what we were planning to do that game and now it is a case of putting it out on the park," coach Dave Rennie said.
The Chiefs have only twice made the playoffs, losing to the Brumbies in the 2004 semi-finals before being thrashed by the Bulls 61-17 in 2009, but Rennie is not fazed by past performances.
"We are where we wanted to be, it is fantastic that we are at home and in with a chance to play in the final," he said.
The Crusaders have made only one change to the side which beat the Bulls a week ago, with their regular rotation of All Blacks props seeing Ben Franks coming in for his brother Owen to partner Wyatt Crockett.
Kieran Read remains sidelined with a fractured rib, leaving Richie McCaw at the back of the scrum.
The Chiefs, who have had a week to rest up since the end of the regular season, have made four changes to the run off team beaten by the Wellington Hurricanes in their last outing which cost them top seeding in the play-offs.
Prop Sona Taumalolo and hooker Mahonri Schwalger return to the front row, Andrew Horrell is reunited in the centres with Sonny Bill Williams and Asaeli Tikoirotuma is on the wing with Robbie Robinson moving back to fullback.
Former All Blacks flank Tanerau Latimer remains in the number seven jersey meaning the new heir apparent to McCaw, Sam Cane, is on the bench.
Another boost for the Chiefs from their last outing against the Crusaders is the return of lock Craig Clarke and backrower Kane Thompson to bolster their lineout.