Crusaders

Deans: ‘Stormers our toughest test yet’

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He may have six of his reconditioned World Cup All Blacks back and they are facing one of the most inconsistent teams in the competition, but Crusaders coach Robbie Deans still regards the Stormers as his team’s toughest challenge yet.

The Crusaders host the Stormers at Jade Stadium in a Super 14 Round Eight match on Saturday and Deans was full of praise for the opposition.

“For all of the criticism that has been directed their way, the Stormers will arrive at Jade Stadium boasting three wins from their last five matches, which includes impressive away wins against the Hurricanes and the Waratahs,” Deans said in his weekly column on the Crusaders website.

“Those performances will have given the Stormers players belief in their capabilities and that makes them a dangerous opponent.

“They also possess class players all over the park, who boast both the ability and the attitude to strike from any part of the field.

“This will be without doubt our toughest assignment yet with so many of our players new to the fold.

“So it’s going to be an interesting contest, but one that all of us at the Crusaders are looking forward to.”

Deans also spoke about the return of the World Cup All Blacks to the Super 14 competition, after missing the first seven weeks of action while they underwent specialised conditioning.

“The dynamic within our group – as far as the number of players who are available for selection – might have changed, but we will otherwise be taking the same approach to our preparation this week as we have for any other match in the Super 14.

“With the conditioning All Blacks returning, we now have 34 players in our squad.

“That is a larger group than normal, and the increased size does bring with it additional management and logistical issues, but we at least now have a full level of control over all of the players inside of our team.

“Maintaining a collective focus and purpose, free of all other outside distractions, will be critical for the Crusaders as the competition progresses from this point.

“While the return of the All Black players from the strength and conditioning programme did necessitate some changes to our normal procedure last week, we were able to manage that process without it becoming a burden for the playing squad in the lead up to last weekend’s game against the Bulls.

“From a coaching perspective, ‘Hammer’ [Crusaders assistant coach Mark Hammett] and I were pleased with the contribution provided by every member of the playing and management staff within our group.

“It was a unique circumstance, in terms of being confronted with the preparation of two separate groups for two separate matches, but the outcome in each instance suggests that the process was well managed.

“Our six returning All Blacks, as well as the balance of the playing staff who were not involved in last weekend’s Bulls match, all gained valuable playing time last Friday during a training game that was played over two 30 minute halves.

“The session not only served as a tool to reintroduce the All Black players to full contact, it also allowed them to gain experience using some of the strategy and method we are applying inside of the Crusaders team.

“While the outcome of the game, against a squad made up of a number of the more promising younger players coming through the Canterbury provincial ranks, was irrelevant, it was pleasing to see all of our guys looking sharp, energetic and hungry for involvement.

“If the exercise last Friday night provided everything we were seeking from it, the same could also be said of our match against the Bulls, 24 hours later.

“The five competition points we secured from that contest was just reward and reflective of the preparatory work and progression made by the team.

“While a difficult lesson was learned during our loss to the Sharks in Durban two weeks earlier, we couldn’t fault the commitment and energy provided by the players on that occasion.

“We had stressed to them that they would get their rewards if they continued along that pathway, in terms of their attitude and what they brought to the game, for the rest of the campaign.

“The players did exactly that against the Bulls.

“Like all of the South African teams, the Bulls primarily base their game around a large forward pack, and gaining momentum through strong ball carries on the fringes of rucks and mauls.

“We knew that if we were able to get up quickly in their faces on defence, while also recycling possession quickly using the full width of the field to spread the ball away from their area of strength, they would stress and scoring opportunities would present themselves.

“It was a sign of the growing maturity and belief that has been developing within our group that the players were not distracted by the situation around them in the lead up to the game.

“Instead, they focused on preparing themselves properly and applying our game plan, producing a result that has given us a great springboard into the rest of the competition.

“It is important that we now build on the momentum that has been gained.

“One of the issues we have faced in the early part of the competition this year has been the yo-yo effect – where we promptly followed up each of our first two wins by losing the next match.

“That trend needs to stop against the Stormers, although the task won’t be easy against an opponent that has picked up some impressive results in recent weeks.”

 

365 Digital

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