MacDonald out to seal home Semi-final for Crusaders

Crusaders fullback Leon MacDonald is still feeling the pressure to perform despite his side carrying a healthy lead into the last three Super 14 rounds.

This weekend the Crusaders face the third-placed Sharks at AMI Stadium in Christchurch on Friday. In recent weeks both teams have tasted defeat but last week the Crusaders bounced back from a 5-18 loss to the Chiefs with a 26-22 victory against the Blues.

The Sharks however suffered another defeat last week this time against the Waratahs.

Mathematically the Crusaders still need a bonus point win to secure a home semi-final but with nine teams still in it Leon MacDonald will be going all out to ensure a home semi.

“Every week it seems the teams are getting more and more desperate and there’s no let up at all,” MacDonald told Sportal.

“In the big picture there’s also an opportunity to cement a home semi-final as well. It’s quite a big game for us, so to be able to do that this early would be great.”

The Crusaders have been boosted by the return of centre Casey Laulala who has been one of the form players of the tournament but missed last weekend’s match after being knocked out in the game against the Chiefs.

“He’s been our rock in midfield. He’s been huge on defence all year and doing all that work carrying the ball up and getting us across the advantage line. He’s a big bonus to have back,” MacDonald added.

Laulala, with 51 Super rugby caps, will also bring some much-needed experience to a young Crusaders backline.

Dan Carter is still injured and with Aaron Mauger now playing for Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership, MacDonald, with 111 caps, is by far and away the most experienced back.

In fact MacDonald has more caps than the rest of his fellow backliners put together (Laulala aside) wih Andrew Ellis on 32, Stephen Brett on 21, Tim Bateman 10, Sean Maitland 9 and Kade Poki 6 combined.

“We miss Aaron Mauger in the midfield a little bit with his experience but we’ve got some really exciting young players,” said MacDonald.

“With a guy like Casey, he’s played a fair few games now. It’s still a reasonably good balance of experience and young talent.”

MacDonald feels that the Sharks won’t be too hurt by the loss of French first five-eighth Frederic Michalak who injured his knee last week.

“He’s been a good player for them, he’s fitted in there really well but I don’t think it will affect them too much.

“They’ve got quite an experienced team. They’ve got a strong forward pack and their backs are pretty talented. I suppose on the counter-side we’ve lost Dan (Carter) so we’re probably one-all in that stake.”

The Sharks may have experience in the team but they have very little experience in beating the Crusaders in Christchurch and have yet to win from seven previous visits to the city including a semi-final in 1998.

Add in the fact this is the final match of a five-week tour of Australasia that has included matches in Sydney, Canberra, Dunedin and Wellington and injuries to Bismarck du Plessis and Brad Barritt, and it could been seen as something of an uphill battle.

But Crusaders coach Robbie Deans is not convinced.

“While the last two weeks haven’t gone as well as they will have hoped, they’d been unbeaten in nine before that so they’d built up a lot of confidence,” he said.

“This is the last game of their tour and they’ll throw everything they have at us out on the track. We’d certainly be that way if we were in their position.”

“This is the last game of their tour and they’ll throw everything they have at us out on the track. We’d certainly be that way if we were in their position.”

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