Gun-shy Saders still a threat

Allister Coetzee maintains the Crusaders will be difficult to beat despite the absence of Richie McCaw and Dan Carter.

The Stormers have enjoyed their share of ups and downs having won only two of their first five games. However, after thrashing the Lions two weeks ago many believed the first tour match in Christchurch would go their way.

In round four, the Crusaders drew with the Force. Missing McCaw to injury and Carter to a six-month French sojourn, most expected them to finish this season middle of the table. Terms like “rebuilding phase” would be used to temper the “Champs to Chumps” headlines. Coach Todd Blackadder would stay on as the winning-cycle started all over again.

But then the Crusaders went and beat the Waratahs in Sydney – a feat that has sounded a warning to all comers. They may not win the title in 2009 and they’re lacking a few big names, but they won’t be pushovers.

‘They are very closely-knit side and that showed when they went to Sydney and beat the much-fancied Waratahs,’ Coetzee told ‘They fell short of a win against the Force, but they had another opportunity against the Tahs and didn’t miss out.

‘They are operating with a host of younger players but they shouldn’t be underestimated. Stephen Brett gives them an attacking edge at 10, and even a young guy like Colin Slade, who’s playing 11 at the moment, will have a say when it comes to kicking. Then they have the class of Leon MacDonald at fullback – all in all, it’s a very well balanced backline.’

Coetzee acknowledged the talents of All Blacks McCaw and Carter. The former Springbok backline coach was previously involved with countering the duo’s genius at Test level, and is well aware of the threat they pose.

While he believes the Crusaders won’t be the same without the pair Coetzee claims replacements George Whitelock and Brett will need to be monitored closely.

‘We’d be making a big mistake if we took this side lightly. They’re well coached and well organised and we’ll have a helluva lot of respect for them, especially in Christchurch.’

The Stormers arrived in New Zealand on Saturday and so will have a full week to prepare for the weekend’s fixture. The weather can be a factor and so it’s imperative they adapt immediately.

‘We’ve settled well and the week off has done us good,’ said Coetzee. ‘It was a bit of a shock to come from the warm weather of Cape Town to the cold of Christchurch, but we’ve had a couple of sessions and the guys are adapting well.’

By Jon Cardinelli