Crusaders

Jack hoping for one more crusade

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All Blacks lock Chris Jack will be hoping his eight year crusade with Super 14 champions the Crusaders won’t come to an end in the semi-final clash with the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.

Jack, 28, departs for English club Saracens after the Rugby World Cup to join the exodus of New Zealand players leaving their mother country for greener pastures. Or is that greener money?

Whether the 58-capped international will make a return to the Crusaders remains to be seen, the All Blacks veteran knows his swansong may well be nearing at the champion franchise.

Whether it is in the semi-finals this weekend or in the Super 14 final a week later depends on whether the Crusaders can step up against the Bulls at Pretoria.

“Everyone dreams of that perfect ending but who knows what’s going to happen,” Jack told NZPA.

“After the game, whether it’s this week or next week, I’ll get quite emotional, I think.

“I haven’t had a chance to think about it, especially with the team not performing well in the last couple of weeks, it’s been all hands to the pump.”

It hasn’t been plain sailing for Jack since returning from national coach Graham Henry’s reconditioned All Blacks squad seven weeks ago.

In that time he has clocked up just 89 minutes of rugby after straining his hamstring against the Waratahs on March 31.

It has contributed to the Crusaders’ stuttering end to the regular season and with losses to the Brumbies and the Chiefs in consecutive weeks, the six-time champions enter their ninth semi-final appearance without their customary momentum.

“It’s strange for us coming into this point of the season and perhaps not playing our best footy,” said Jack.

“We got our heads together this week and come up with something which will hopefully get us through this next game.”

That Crusaders gameplan will be to step up their work in the line-out, a weekness that was exposed in their twin losses in the last two weeks.

Bulls captain and Springbok lock Victor Matfield is the world’s best pincher of opposition throws and Jack looks forward to their long rivalry resuming.

“Victor and me have a special relationship going back to our early test match days. We also played against each other in colts,” Jack said.

“He just keeps on churning it out, he plays awesome football, there’s no doubt about it. It’s a pleasure to play against him.”

It probably won’t be the last time Matfield and Jack clash this year, with the pair likely to lock horns at test level once again.

“I don’t know if we’re looking for a jump on each other for the year, we just enjoy the contest,” added Jack.

Jack was surprised as most people with the selection of Matfield’s long-time locking partner Bakkies Botha named on the replacment bench.

Loose forward cum lock Danie Rossouw will partner Matfield in the second row, but Jack noted there wouldn’t be many more effective impact players than the highly rated Botha.

The lack of game time for Jack is one reason for coach Robbie Deans naming five forwards on his reserve bench.

Mobile lock Michael Paterson may well be introduced during the second half or flanker Reuben Thorne could move there, allowing either Johnny Leo’o or Kieran Read to inject extra speed at flanker.

“We’ve got some good impact players there so we can mix up how we play our game,” Deans said.

“It depends how the game unfolds but we’re not limited.”

With just two backs on the bench, speedy first five-eighth Stephen Brett will be called on to play on the wing or fullback if there are injuries there.

Caleb Ralph’s inclusion ahead of Scott Hamilton was the result of a Deans hunch.

“Just his (Ralph’s) little bit of experience of cauldrons like this. It was just instinct I guess.”

Kevin Senio has won the starting halfback role over Andrew Ellis, with Deans saying it was nearly impossible to separate the pair.

“There’s not a lot in it. We’ve got two quality players there and you’re probably likely to see both on the field,” said Deans.

“They’re both very physical players. They’re both going to have to defend – that will be a requirement of everyone.”

 

365 Digital

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