Read ready for play-offs
The seven-time champions Crusaders could be boosted by the return of All Black No.8 Kieran Read when they host the Bulls in the first round of Super Rugby play-offs on Saturday.
Read was sidelined with a rib injury when he Crusaders strolled past the Western Force (38-24) to book their place in the play-offs.
Coach Todd Blackadder says there's a good chance Read will be back at No.8.
"He's a lot better, but still we'll wait and see," Blackadder told Newstalk ZB.
"If he comes back that would be great for us but if he's not then I trust the guys out that'll do the job but he's such a big player.
"He's so important to us, it would be nice to have him out there."
Chasing an unprecedented eighth title, the Crusaders were unconvincing in securing their 11th straight play-off appearance in Christchurch at the weekend.
It has been a patchy, turbulent campaign for the red-and-blacks, not one highlighted by their usual consistency.
That same summation was true of the erratic, at times error-riddled, performance against the committed but very limited Western Force.
"The wheels fell off a bit," Crusaders wing Sean Maitland told Fairfax NZ.
Two controversial decisions helped the Crusaders limp into the finals.
The last time this team lost five games in the regular season was 2007 under Robbie Deans.
Last week's vital win over the Chiefs, which kept their hopes alive, was a turning point, but there is a realisation they need to lift their standards, significantly.
What started as a training run exhibition against the Force turned into an ugly dog-fight. The visitors scored three tries to none during their shock second-half revival.
"The scoreboard was ugly and it could have gone pair-shaped but we stuck to it," interim Force coach Phil Blake said.
The Crusaders secured fourth place along with crucial home advantage for next week's qualifying final as the machine showed glimpses of its formidable form, but not for long enough. Clinical finishing and ruthlessness were absence commodities.
"It wasn't quite what we were looking for but we were able to freshen up guys and they will provide that impact next week," Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said.
You wouldn't bet against the Crusaders' ending their longest run (five years) without a crowning moment. Very rarely does this side produce two scratchy efforts in succession. Their presence for the climatic stages is no surprise, given they have only missed the post-season three times in history.
"That was the best team we played all year in the first 40," Force captain Nathan Sharpe said after his final game for the Perth franchise.
"As much as the competition has changed the Crusaders are the team that's been there every year.
"I'd say from here it will be between the Stormers and the Crusaders. If the Reds get through they could be a bit of a threat."
In his fourth tilt at a title, Blackadder will attempt to lead his men the long way home, again.
"You've got to front up three times to win it and we'll only get one at home," a rested Richie McCaw said.
"That's the way it is. We've put ourselves in that position. We've got a few guys who have been through this before. Last year was disappointing. We know what it takes but that doesn't mean it's easy."