Crusaders head coach Todd Blackadder says the issue of recruiting marquee players, like the Stormers have done with Schalk Brits, must be addressed.
The Stormers were allowed special dispensation to draft Brits, who is contracted to Saracens, into their squad following injuries to the bulk of the loose forwards in the Super Rugby squad.
His inclusion as a replacement loose forward for Saturday’s clash at Newlands has been widely celebrated in Cape Town, with few within the region questioning the ethics of this course of action. In addition, the calibre of the player in question significantly bolsters the Stormers.
Speaking at a press conference in Cape Town, Blackadder tried, unsuccessfully to hide his frustration at the decision. ‘They’re bringing in a marquee player at the business end of the season, but I think that loophole will be closed at the end of the season. Sanzar have to look at it,’ he told keo.co.za.
‘There’s nothing that we can do about it. They’ve got a dispensation. There can’t be any lose forwards left in the Cape to go into the team.’
When probed on whether they would have followed a similar route had they been in the same situation, Blackadder said: ‘We’ve had injuries where we’ve brought in Brent Ward and Reuben Thorne. Most of the teams have had to deal with injuries, and they’ve all coped.’
The Crusaders have lost three semi-finals in South Africa in recent history, being beaten convincingly on each occasion. However, Blackadder stressed that no comparisons can be made between their visit at this stage of the tournament in 2010, to this one.
‘There is a massive difference between our preparation,’ he said. ‘We limped into the semi-final last year. We came to Africa late in the campaign [to face the Bulls in the league-phase] and went back home where we had to win to stay in the tournament and then had to come back here for the semi.
‘This year we’re in a totally different space. We’ve had three years building to this. We’ve travelled well, we’ve got the mental strength and we can see an opportunity against a very good side. It’s just got a totally different feel about it. We’ve drawn on our experiences too, and are really determined to do something that’s hard to achieve.’
The former All Blacks captain said the composition of the Stormers backline – which was lamented for its conservative look – didn’t affect their planning. He continued, saying he understood why the Stormers had opted for a reshuffle to what is clearly their preferred combination, after experimentation against the Cheetahs.
‘The Stormers have a great backline and they really cut through us the last time we played, but they didn’t get the rewards for it. We expect them to go really direct and it’s about how, defensively, we can shut their game down. We’ve done our homework and recognise their strengths.’
He added that the Crusaders’ 20-14 victory in May had no bearing on this contest. ‘We separate the two. Although I was really proud of our performance the last time, I feel like we’re bringing back a better team this time and we’re better prepared.
‘We really respect this Stormers side. They’re hurting from the last match, were they had a lot of opportunities they could take. But that was a long time ago, this weekend we’ll throw the kitchen sink. This team has stood up at crucial times and shown belief in each other. It’s a knock-out and we’re ready to go.’