Crusaders work on tighter rugby defence

Look for improved set-piece defence from the Crusaders when they host the Chiefs in Christchurch in Super Rugby’s opening round.

Plugging the holes has been a major focus for the seven-time champions after their 74-7 drubbing at the hands of the Hurricanes last weekend in the teams’ final pre-season hitout.

Assistant coach Tabai Matson admits the result in Blenheim was “a bit of a shock” and a review has highlighted areas that need fixing.

One was the way the Hurricanes were able to punish the Crusaders from scrums – five of their tries came from second or third phases.

“So a real big focus has been tidying up our scrum defence,” he said.

“We generally get what we focus on, so hopefully that will tidy up this weekend.”

The defeat to the Hurricanes was followed by All Blacks No.8 Kieran Read opting to return to Super Rugby ahead of schedule.

Read, who will succeed the retired Richie McCaw as Test skipper this year, had been set to sit out the early rounds, but will start on Saturday night against the Chiefs.

Matson said the decision was the player’s.

He said Read had been itching to go from the time he arrived back at the Crusaders in the first week of January.

“I think for him, a guy who has captained the side and a guy who loves this team, he probably watched that game and thought, ‘I need to be back’,” he said.

“It was his decision and when someone says, ‘I want to be back – I need to be back’, we’re happy.”

Matson said Read’s selection had lifted the team and his presence had brought clarity around what needed to be done.

Read will form an experienced eight-nine partnership with halfback Andy Ellis.

Outside Ellis will be Richie Mo’unga, one of three Super Rugby debutants in the starting 15 along with centre Sean Wainui and openside flanker Tim Boys.

Mo’unga gets first go in the No.10 jersey after the departure of All Blacks Dan Carter, Colin Slade and Tom Taylor to French clubs after last season.

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