The Crusaders, recharged after their bye week, arrived in South Africa at the weekend geared to tackle the table-topping Sharks.
On the back of their three-match winning streak, the Crusaders had the opportunity this past week to regroup and assess what is required for a successful defence of their title.
And facing the Sharks first up on a tough three-match South Africa tour – with the Cheetahs and Lions as their other opponents – it is just the start to their road trip they wanted.
The fact that the Sharks lost their second match of the season, in going down 6-31 to the Cheetahs at the weekend, has not changed the assessment the Crusaders have of their opponents.
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder, speaking to rugby365, said they know what to expect against the Sharks – who stayed in first place on the standings, despite their defeat against the Cheetahs.
“They are a very tough, direct side who play with a lot of intensity,” Blackadder said.
“I guess it’s good that we’re playing them first up, as it will serve to focus all our minds on what will be a tough three-match tour.”
After a ‘slow’ start to the season, the Crusaders have gained some nice momentum – with wins over Waratahs, Stormers and Bulls and the bye also gave some of the bruised and battered bodies in the team a chance to recover.
“We think the bye has come at a very good time for us,” Blackadder told rugby365.com’s Jan De Koning.
“At the start of the season we didn’t feel so sure – it’s often nice to have the bye out of the way early and then you can continue to build momentum.
“This time though it’s worked out well because of all the injuries we’ve had. The boys really needed a break and they’ve got it this week.”
Blackadder included three scrumhalves – Andy Ellis, Kahn Fotuali’i and Tyson Keats in his touring squad due to Ellis’s sore ribs.
“We’re sure he will play a full part in our three matches – it’s just precautionary,” the coach said.
They will be without flyer Casey Laulala, out for the rest of the season with a fractured arm.
“There are a few niggles among the squad, but the break will do them good and we’re starting to get a few back from injury now.
“Richie McCaw [knee, four matches missed] should be right for the Sharks match and Jared Payne [ankle, missed three matches, but was back against Bulls last weekend] should be hitting full fitness then too.”Tweet