History favours 'Saders, Reds
Wellington - Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has appealed to television match officials to get "the big moments" right as the Super Rugby enters the sudden death rounds on Saturday.
History favours the Crusaders and Reds in their playoff clashes against the Bulls and Sharks, and Blackadder does not want the results decided by controversial rulings.
A contentious decision in the final round of pool play cost the Chiefs their place at the top of the ladder, and Blackadder does not want a similar error to impact on the do-or-die rounds.
"One thing I do know is there's nothing you can do once the decision is made," the Crusaders coach said.
"It's just something I hope doesn't creep into play especially with the finals on the line now and these big games and big moments."
The seven-times champion Crusaders, who host the Bulls in Christchurch, are always a threat at this crucial part of the season.
The most successful franchise in the competition boasts an impressive record of winning 18 of the 24 play-off matches they have contested in the history of Super Rugby, including winning all 14 played at home.
The Bulls have never won a playoff match outside South Africa and it is 15 years since they last beat the Crusaders in Christchurch in a regular season match.
On their own home ground the Bulls beat the Crusaders in the 2007, 2009 and 2010 semi-finals, where their pattern was to focus on the set pieces and the accurate boot of Morne Steyn.
"They haven't changed one bit of their game plan in the last four years, which is a credit to them because they just keep playing to their strengths all the time. We know exactly what we are going to get," Blackadder said.
Bubbling beneath the surface of this match is the unresolved Bulls' allegations of eye-gouging by Crusaders players when they clashed earlier in the year.
The accusations were never proven and denied by the Crusaders whose demand for an apology was ignored by the Bulls.
The Crusaders will be without injured All Blacks backrower Keiran Read with Richie McCaw slipping into the boot while lock Flip van der Merwe returns from injury for the Bulls, replacing Wilhelm Steenkamp.
The Sharks, who sneaked into sixth spot when they came from 15-6 down to beat the Cheetahs 34-15 last week, head to Brisbane and a date with the Reds knowing they have lost six of seven play-off matches outside South Africa.
They are also down on manpower with fullback Patrick Lambie and lock Pieter-Steph du Toit injured and centre Frans Steyn ruled ineligible because he signed up for the franchise after the April 1 transfer deadline.
The Reds go into the play-offs on a six-game winning streak and eager to reverse their loss to the Sharks in the regular season when they gave up a 17-0 lead to go down 22-27.
But their cause has not been helped by the suspension of Wallaby flyhalf Quade Cooper who has been suspended for a week, though coach Ewen McKenzie was relaxed about slotting Ben Lucas into the playmaker role.
"I am not worried (about using Lucas). We have always said we are confident for cover if Quade is out," McKenzie said.
"Hopefully he rises to the occasion. He has done it before for us."