Super Rugby

Crusaders ready for tough Highlanders test

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Crusaders Super Rugby assistant coach Tabai Matson says that they are ready for everything the Highlanders will throw at them in on Friday.

The Crusaders are on an eight match winning streak and have risen to the top of the standings on points differential.

The Chiefs have a bye this week but Highlanders bonus point victory with a margin 27 points could see the Chiefs regain the top spot.

The Highlanders would then be level on 37 points with the Chiefs and Crusaders but would still be in third place in the NZ Conference due to points difference.

The Highlanders had a mid season wobble with losses to the Reds and the Sharks but against the Chiefs last week they looked to be back on their game.

Crusaders assistant coach Tabai Matson has noticed the Highlanders resurgence and says that in Hamilton they looked to be back to their “abrasive best”.

“I think so many (elements) of what the Highlanders bring to the game absolutely pushes us. So for us it is going to be a massive challenge to contain parts of the game that are really hard to contain.”

“And part of that will be the match-ups, the one on ones created on the edge,” he said on the NZRU site.

The Crusaders may be Super Rugby’s form team currently but they are not getting ahead of themselves and Matson says it is a cliché but the next game is all they are looking at.

A concern for the Crusaders will be the form of Fijian winger Waisake Naholo who scored three tries in club rugby two week ago and then two tries for the Highlanders against the Chiefs in his first Super Rugby match since breaking a leg in Round one.

Matson said that Naholo’s form has been a big boost for the Highlanders in his first match back not only due to the tries he scored but also what he did at the breakdown and collisions.

“He was a beast and he’s just thrown the gauntlet down for our wingers which is great,” Matson said.

The way the Crusaders and Highlanders play are similar due to the way their respective back threes carry the ball and the work their loose forwards do.

“But there’s an arm wrestle that has to take place beforehand and that is the key, winning the arm wrestle first,” he said.

The Highlanders kick the ball the most in the NZ Conference and this largely due to Lima Sopoaga’s boot so Matson said that they are looking at ways of defusing some of the kicks he puts into the right parts of the field that allow the Highlanders to build momentum.

Matson said that the Crusaders are expecting a capacity crowd which is shaping up to be one of the big games of the season.

“It should be berserk down there, the players love it and it will add to the intensity of the battle, it’ll be a doosie,” Matson said.

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