The Crusaders have history and form on their side when they host the Hurricanes in Christchurch tomorrow night in the Super Rugby semifinals.
If they can get past the only other New Zealand team still in contention, just one more win will separate the defending champions from a staggering ninth championship.
The omens are good – the Crusaders have won 11 of their 16 semifinals appearances, never lost a finals encounter in Christchurch, and beaten the Hurricanes all four times the two teams have met in the play-offs.
Hurricanes coach Chris Boyd says that’s an impressive record, and admits the home advantage will provide a real boost for the Crusaders.
“It’s even more significant for the Crusaders in the fact that they’ve never lost a play-off game down there ever,” he said.
“At the end of the day, we’re not going to go down there to make up the numbers, we’re going down there to try and win.
“But it’s not going to be an easy task.”
The Hurricanes had lost four of their previous five matches heading into last week’s 32-31 quarterfinal victory over the Chiefs, but Crusaders coach Scott Robertson says that doesn’t mean they can afford to take the visitors lightly.
“We expect a lot – they’re world-class players, and they can turn up on the night,” he said.
“And their ability as world-class players to perform under pressure and create is what they do – that’s why they’re good.”
The Crusaders have won their last 13 matches on end, their most recent victory last week’s 40-10 quarter-final win over the Sharks, but one of their two losses early in the season was a 29-19 defeat by the Hurricanes.
Boyd backs his players to match the Crusaders, especially in the midfield, where Jordie Barrett and Ngani Laumape square off against Ryan Crotty and Jack Goodhue.
He says Barrett’s versatility is an added bonus for the Hurricanes, but at the moment he’s most valuable at centre.
“I personally believe he’s a better 15, but he likes the midfield and he did enough for me last week to suggest that was the right way for us to start – I’m sure it won’t be the way we finish.”
Crusaders skipper Kieran Read, leading an all-All Blacks forward pack, says the defending champions know the Hurricanes present a daunting challenge.
“We’ve got to be prepared for them at their best, which certainly in the back line is devastating,” he said.
“The more presssure we can put on their forward pack, and give them the least quality ball that we can will help us. They played well last week and look to be in pretty good form.
“We’re in good shape, but finals comes down to little moments. We love playing this time of year, but nothing comes as granted for us.”