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Fresh Crusaders eye the prize

Fresh from the bye the Crusaders return to action against the Reds looking at their four games ahead of the June break as the chance to consolidate their position on, or near, the top of the Investec Super Rugby table.

Friday's game in Christchurch is one the home team will be mindful of not breathing life into the Reds' poor season as a notable scalp, and wariness will be a key asset.

Coach Todd Blackadder identified as much when he noted what the Reds were capable of in the first 25 minutes of their win over the Highlanders.

"They've got good big players who love carrying the ball over the advantage line and I just think in this competition if the mind's not quite right you can slip up and be put away.

"We' recalibrating, starting again and we respect them and know what they're capable of but I think it's more about what we bring.

"If you think you're better than what you are you get put away. We're not taking anything for granted and we're not buying into this eight or nine [wins] in a row sort of stuff, it doesn't feel like that this year. The team is hungry to get out there and win in every game. We've done our work on these guys and we've prepared well," he said.

If the players made the most of that and turned up in the right frame of mind they would give themselves a chance.

Blackadder said Mike Alaalatoa was being started at tighthead prop because he had made every step a winner during the season by working hard to get his core strength up and it was a good chance to give him a start so that he had time exposure in case anything happened to regular Owen Franks who had been in good form all season.

He said that there was a sense in the squad that they were 'bubbling away quite nicely' and he was enjoying coaching without stress as the team continued to build because they were not at their best yet.

"We're taking lessons out of every game," he said.

Part of the change in results this year was down to a lift in defence. Blackadder was taking more responsibility in that area and found it had helped him in his overall approach to the job.

Previously the concentration had been on attack but more attention to defence had helped this year, he said.

"I think our defence has lifted our overall performance. Our guys are constantly working on their tackle technique and working within our systems and we do a lot of homework on our opposition and it is pleasing when the stats are high, it means everyone's doing the work and it shows out there on the field," he said.

Captain Kieran Read continued the recalibration theme adding that the Reds had done well against the Crusaders in their pre-season game.

"We're happy with where we're at, and looking at the competition as a whole we can't afford to be dropping off, and games at home are more vital to pick up some points," he said.

The Reds had probably one of the best scrums in Australia and they were good at the breakdown so the Crusaders were wary of those areas, he said.

Read said it had been good going into the bye with a win, and they had used their time off to get themselves fresh again.

"It's probably perfect timing for us, we've got a month's footy before the June break so we can kick into gear now and go hard for a month and then the guys get another break," he said.

It was quite a tough block of games with two New Zealand teams away and two Australian teams at home.