Fri. Nov 18th, 2022

Leon MacDonald has heard plenty of people typecasting his Blues team as a collection of lead-footed behemoths out of their comfort zone the minute the tempo goes up a few notches. Respectfully, he begs to differ.
The Blues style has been a hot topic ahead of their top-of-the-table Super Rugby Aotearoa clash against the Crusaders at Eden Park on Sunday when the City of Sails turns back into rugby central for this matchup of what might be the two best club/franchise teams in the world.
Both are undefeated in the 2021 season, and both are heavily favoured to meet eventually in the grand final on May 8 that will put a line under the localised part of the Super season trans-Tasman bubble permitting.
It is, in many ways, irresistible force meeting immovable object, though just who lays claim to which tag might be a heavily debated question.
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The Highlanders weighed into the debate before and after last Sundays 39-17 defeat to the Auks at Eden Park when they labelled the Blues South African in style. Coach Tony Brown reckoned this Sundays matchup would unfold as essentially a clash of styles.
If the Blues can use their power, be really good at the set piece, they can slow the Crusaders down, said Brown when asked to assess prospects. But the Crusaders play fast as well. Its whether they (the Blues) can handle the speed of the Crusaders, or slow the game down.
MacDonald, the one-time Crusaders legend who is forging a well-deserved reputation as an outstanding coach with the Blues, says he both agrees and disagrees with the theory that his side wants to play slo-mo rugby against the Crusaders who love to strike off turnover ball.
Weve got a big team, but I think weve got a big, athletic team and were pretty fit, said MacDonald on Friday after naming a lineup featuring five changes from that which downed the Highlanders. Our testing numbers compete with everyone else in the competition. Its not like were hiding our fitness . quite the opposite.
Weve scored some good tries off turnover ball and were moving around the park pretty well. We never talk about slowing the game down. Its maybe a perception, but were happy with the way were moving around the park.
Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images
The Blues want to take the Crusaders on up front, as well as around the park, on Sunday at Eden Park.
The Blues do have a powerful pack, headed by those four All Blacks props (looseheads Alex Hodgman and Karl Tuinukuafe and tightheads Nepo Laulala and Ofa Tuungafasi) who ensure a relentless 80-minute examination at scrum time. In Akira Ioane and Hoskins Sotutu they possess two powerful ball-running loosies and Patrick Tuiupulotu is one of the more physical locks running about.
But MacDonald didnt see dealing with the speed of the mobile and always organised Crusaders as any sort of an issue.
I thought we coped with them well last year when we played them (a 26-15 defeat that only escaped the Auks late in the piece) we dont see that as a big factor. We can match them fitness wise and work as hard as them. Its not an area Im worried about.
Blues forwards coach Tom Coventry agreed. The implication was we were one-dimensional, he said of the South African comparisons. We pride ourselves on our skill level and being able to move teams around the park, and I suppose the boys bristled over that.
You would have seen at the weekend we can run and gun. I think you need to (play both styles) if you are going to be any good. Our on-field leadership has got better, and some of our tactical decision-making is much better than it was a couple of years ago.
Weve got four All Black props, so the obvious view is were pretty strong up front. But youve got to be able to do more than one thing well.
MacDonald is well aware the Crusaders do many, many things well, primary among then turning half-chances into points.
Will Jordan will cruise around like a shark at the back waiting for an opportunity to strike, and Richie [Mounga], you miscommunicate at one point on D and dont give him the respect he needs and hell take it. They have threats across the park, their offload game is really good, theyve got power on the wing its an all-round challenge really.
Andrew Cornaga/Photosport
Blues coach Leon MacDonald: ‘Weve got a big team, but we never talk about slowing the ball down.’
Of course, the Blues havent rolled the Crusaders in seven years but MacDonald, who spent 12 years as a linchpin of the red and black backline, has a fair idea about the formula required.
Their lineout, scrum and maul are all world-class. I dont know if there are many teams around the world that are better, even at international level. So getting parity there is huge and if you can find dominance in one of those three, thats a really good start.
A lot of it is mental too, staying on for 80 minutes, working really hard, no breaks a lot of teams come close and dont quite get there. Thats what youve got to do to get the result.
But MacDonald is not without hope. He has a formidable team of his own which has won its last five home matches on the bounce. The one-sided recent history between the two hasnt been spoken about either.
We dont need extra motivation we had a good opportunity to beat them last year down in Christchurch and a couple of mistakes cost us. Were really conscious of just how on youve got to be against them and thats what weve been talking about.
This fixture feels like it has been a long time coming. It was supposed to take place last year in front of 40,000 fans, and was cancelled because of a Covid outbreak. Same again with a planned pre-season showcase. The Blues are hoping it is third time lucky on Sunday.
Blues: Stephen Perofeta, Bryce Heem, Rieko Ioane, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, Otere Black, Jonathan Ruru; Hoskins Sotutu, Blake Gibson, Akira Ioane, Josh Goodhue, Patrrick Tui[pulotu (capt), Nepo Laulala, Luteru Tolai, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Karl Tuinukuafe, Ofa Tuungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Tom Robinson, Adrian Choat, Finlay Christie, TJ Faiane.
Crusaders: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Leicester Faingaanuku, Richie Mounga, Bryn Hall; Cullen Grace, Sione Havili Talitui, Ethan Blackadder, Samuel Whitelock, Scott Barrett (capt), Michael Alaalatoa, Codie Taylor, Joe Moody. Reserves: Brodie McAlister, George Bower, Oliver Jager, Mitchell Dunshea, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Drummond, Fergus Burke, Dallas McLeod.
Referee: Paul Williams.