At least one of the Crusaders’ fellow quarterfinalists is expecting the defending champions to host this year’s Super Rugby Final once again.
The Crusaders have delivered an ominous warning as they bid for a third consecutive Super Rugby crown with news that they expect to be at full strength for the play-offs.
The nine-times champions already have an impressive record having never lost a home play-off game since Super Rugby’s launch in 1996, and are unbeaten in their last 27 home fixtures.
They confirmed their place at the top of the table this year with one round to spare and then had to wait until the end of the final game of the regular season at the weekend to learn they will be playing the Otago Highlanders in the first quarter-final next Friday.
The second-seeded Jaguares play the Chiefs in Buenos Aires, the Brumbies host the Sharks in Canberra while the Hurricanes are at home to the Bulls.
The Crusaders achieved home-ground advantage for the play-offs despite having many of their All Blacks out of action for much of the season, but the cavalry is returning when required.
Tighthead prop Owen Franks, who has been plagued by a shoulder injury and only played four games in the regular season, has been cleared to return as has hooker Codie Taylor who has been out for a month with a broken finger.
Another All Blacks frontrower Tim Perry, who broke an arm in round one, rejoined the side for their last pool match while senior All Blacks Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock were rested for the first month to manage their workload in a World Cup year.
“To win a championship, a lot has got to go right. Full squad, full team. To give every chance to go through in that finals series, you need to have the opportunity to pick your best squad,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said.
While most sides were under pressure for the final round of the regular season, Robertson gave the Crusaders the week off to “really freshen up”.
Adding to their impressive record, the Crusaders topped the try-scoring list in the regular season with 73 and had the least scored against them with 31.
“If you’re going to win it, you have to beat the Crusaders in Christchurch,” Chiefs coach Colin Cooper said.
Undaunted, Highlanders coach Aaron Mauger said: “We can go through and beat anybody.”
When the Bulls beat the Lions in the final match at the weekend, it kept last year’s beaten finalists out of the final eight and confirmed the Chiefs would finish seventh and the Highlanders eighth.
It also meant the Chiefs, who made the quarterfinals through a hefty win over the Melbourne Rebels on Friday, travelled back to New Zealand on Saturday then flew to Argentina on Sunday to face South African conference winners Jaguares.
If the Chiefs win, they then have to fly to Australia or South Africa for a semifinal against the winner of the Brumbies-Sharks match.
A Jaguares win will see the Argentines host the winner of the Canberra clash in the semifinals.
The winner of the Crusaders-Highlanders match will play the winner of the Hurricanes-Bulls encounter.
If the Crusaders win they stay home but if the Highlanders prevail then, as the bottom qualifier, they must travel for their semifinal.
Super Rugby quarterfinal Draw
Quarterfinal One: Crusaders  versus Highlanders 
Quarterfinal Two: Hurricanes  versus Bulls 
Quarterfinal Three: Jaguares  versus Chiefs 
Quarterfinal Four: Brumbies  versus Sharks 
Quarterfinal schedule (all times local)
Friday, June 21: Crusaders v Highlanders, Christchurch Stadium Christchurch @ 19.35 (07.35 GMT)
Friday, June 21: Jaguares v Chiefs, Jose Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires @ 19.05 (22.05 GMT; 10.05, Saturday, June 22 NZ time)
Saturday, June 22: Hurricanes v Bulls, Westpac Stadium, Wellington @ 19.35 (09.35 SA time; 07.35 GMT)
Saturday, June 22: Brumbies v Sharks, GIO Stadium, Canberra @ 20.05 (12.05 SA time; 10.05 GMT)
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