9 Jun 2017

Crusaders out to prove a point

4:14 pm on 9 June 2017

The Crusaders have scooped more pressure onto the British and Irish Lions, suggesting player morale will hinge on winning their tour blockbuster in Christchurch.

Israel Dagg (r) celebrates with Owen Franks of the Crusaders following their win over the Highlanders.

Israel Dagg (r) celebrates with Owen Franks of the Crusaders following their win over the Highlanders. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Questions raised over the quality of the Lions will be amplified if they suffer another early tour loss, having succumbed to the Blues on Wednesday following a limp opening win over the provincial Barbarians.

The Super Rugby-leading Crusaders on Saturday present arguably the most daunting obstacle outside the three Tests.

Keen to remind them of that is assistant coach Leon MacDonald, who said the tourists will struggle to generate team spirit - the lifeblood of any successful campaign - if they're not getting results.

"The excuses are over it's time for a performance - I actually get that feeling from them," MacDonald said.

"They've rolled out a very strong team and if they don't nail it this weekend, they'll feel the pressure.

"For the morale of the camp, a good win here could really set them off. The tour could turn around really quickly."

MacDonald saw small gains from the Lions in their 22-16 loss to the Blues.

He expects a set piece that started to hum at Eden Park will go up another cog against his own team's All Blacks tight five.

That, in turn, will have a flow-on effect.

"We know they've got X-factor players. That'll start coming to the fore once they start getting the rest of their game together.

"The Blues game showed us they took some strides pretty quickly.

"They were right in it and they started to flex their muscles where we knew they would, around the lineout drive and scrummaging."

Another Lions strength was their defensive line speed, which needed pinpoint cut-out passes or slick offloads to breach.

MacDonald says they have overcome similar methods from Super Rugby rivals this season, one reason why they boast a perfect 14-win record.

"Any team's vulnerable if you can get quick ball and I suppose that's the challenge for us," he said.

"We've played some good tough games this year and experienced some line speed.

"This will be a new challenge. They're international players and the crowd's probably going to be a lot more vocal than what we're used to in New Zealand."

MacDonald knows first-hand what it takes to beat the Lions, playing in the NZ Maori team who toppled the combined side in 2005, along with the first two Tests of that series' clean sweep.