Wellington - The Crusaders barely needed a pep talk ahead of their final regular season Super Rugby game against the Hurricanes on Saturday as they know the significance of the occasion, coach Scott Robertson has said.
The Crusaders lead the overall standings on 63 points and can guarantee home advantage throughout the playoffs with an away win over the Hurricanes, but they are also unbeaten in Super Rugby this season with a 14-0 record.
Only one team has gone through the season unbeaten – the 2011 Crusaders side, who won all 11 round robin games, then their semifinal and the final to clinch a fourth title.
"It's pretty obvious, we've got a chance to do something special," Robertson told reporters in Christchurch on Friday as he attempted to downplay the unbeaten record.
"We know how important it is to finish one in the conference and on the overall table with the way everyone is travelling.
"The boys are pretty clear, we don't have to get round and hold hands and chat about that. They know. They're big boys."
Despite the significance of the match, Robertson has opted to rest his All Blacks front row of props Joe Moody and Owen Franks, and hooker Code Taylor after a brutal series against the British and Irish Lions.
"It is a welfare thing. No-one can go 10 games in a row – the guys are holding different niggles and we have three more big games after this," Robertson added.
"And we were guided a lot by the All Blacks and what they thought, and obviously the tough tests they played."
Robertson was, however, still able to call on five other international forwards to start the match, including All Blacks captain Kieran Read, and had faith that his pack would be able to attack the Hurricanes in the set piece and at the breakdown.
"We have got a strong set piece and we trust all our squad," Robertson said of a pack that still includes New Zealand prop Wyatt Crockett, locks Scott Barrett and Luke Romano and loose forwards Matt Todd and Read.
The Hurricanes currently sit fifth in the standings on 54 points and a win will mean they only need travel to Canberra to face the Brumbies in the quarterfinals.
If they were to lose and the Waikato Chiefs beat the Brumbies earlier on Saturday, they will head to South Africa to face the Stormers.
Hurricanes captain TJ Perenara said upending the Crusaders' pursuit for perfection was not a factor in their thinking.
"We want to beat them," Perenara said. "And it's not just because they haven't lost a game.
"It's because it puts us in a better position in terms of travel for our quarter-final, so we go out there and expect to play well and win games.
"That's our focus."
15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Nehe Milner-Skudder, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (captain), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Vaea Fifita, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeff Toomaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Ben May.
Substitutes: 16 James O'Reilly, 17 Chris Eves, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Reed Prinsep, 20 Callum Gibbins, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22Wes Goosen, 23 Cory Jane
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 David Havili, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo'unga, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Kieran Read, 7 Matt Todd (captain), 6 Jordan Taufua, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Michael Alaalatoa, 2 Ben Funnell, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Substitutes: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Tim Perry, 18 Oliver Jager, 19 Sam Whitelock, 20 Jed Brown, 21 Mitchell Drummond, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Sean Wainui