Wyatt Crockett out of Super Rugby final as Crusaders aim for ninth title
Defending champions favourites to win Saturday's final in Christchurch after clocking up 14-match winning streak
The Canterbury Crusaders showed there's no room for sentiment in their drive for a ninth Super Rugby crown against the Golden Lions as they left out retiring hero Wyatt Crockett for what would have been his last game.
The defending champions are overwhelming favourites to win Saturday's final in Christchurch after clocking up a 14-match winning streak and going unbeaten in 20 play-off matches on home soil.
But despite their impressive record, none other than All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has warned the South Africans have "every chance" of pulling off an upset.
He likened the build-up to the 2007 World Cup quarter-finals, when New Zealand were red-hot favourites to beat France "and we got smacked quite badly".
While Hansen said the Crusaders deserved to be regarded as favourites, "there's no guarantee they're going to win it".
"When you look at a contest like this one, you say to yourself who's going to dominate the scrums and you can't really say. Who's going to dominate the line-outs and you can't really say."
The Crusaders, however, know how to win this trophy while the Lions have become Super Rugby's bridesmaids, losing the past two finals and still seeking their first title.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson took a hard-nosed approach on Thursday when naming his side to face one of the most feared forward packs in the competition.
He tested his pack without Crockett in last week's semi-final and opted to stay with Joe Moody starting at loose-head with Tim Perry on the bench.
It brings an end to Crockett's illustrious career with the 35-year-old prop, who played 202 games for the Crusaders and 71 Tests for the All Blacks, having announced this was his final season at this level.
The only change to the Crusaders side that whipped the Wellington Hurricanes last week sees Heiden Bedwell-Curtis replace injured flanker Jordan Taufua, with Wallabies back-rower Pete Samu on the bench.
Robertson also preferred the youth of David Havili at fullback rather than recall the experienced Israel Dagg.
While the Lions have taken a "less is more" approach this week, the Crusaders have devoted plenty of time to working on how to quell their opponents' pack, particularly when they get their rolling maul moving with Malcolm Marx holding the ball.
"When a team has a big strength, as they do in that area, you have to put some time into it," said flanker Matt Todd, one of seven All Blacks in the Crusaders pack.
"It's a real momentum-changer for them. Not just with tries but also getting them field position."
In a bid to win their first Super championship, Lions mentor Swys de Bruin has come up with unique strategy to keep his players fresh from travel fatigue.
They have only had one training run this week, been getting up at 11am and not dining until after 11pm.
"We have to go and do a job," De Bruin said in explaining the new rituals.
Although the Crusaders have not lost since mid-March, De Bruin said that did not make them unbeatable.
"We had 21 wins in a row against South African teams and we lost against the Sharks. It changes, you never know when, so hopefully it changes when we want it," he said.
Updated: August 2, 2018 05:47 PM