Crusaders to spend spare time studying 'frontrunners' Chiefs

The Crusaders are gearing up for a trip to Melbourne to face the Rebels this week but on their flight and during down time at the team hotel they might be studying footage of another team; the Chiefs.

The Crusaders are back in action this Friday after a bye and shaky win over Moana Pasifika the prior week - a game assistant coach James Marshall conceded has been like their season to date.

"I thought we sort of scraped through it really, we didn't hit out straps," Marshall said of the first half the season.

"I thought maybe the Blues [a tight 34-28 win] was our best game of the year so far but other than that I thought a lot was pretty messy.

"There were different reasons for that; injuries played a part and we never got to play the same team back-to-back... but the best thing about that was we're now in a position where a lot of guys have had a taste, game time, or chance to prove themselves so now there's a bit of selection headache."

Those headaches are only getting worse with key players close to returning said injuries as well, although Ethan Blackadder is expected to be "at least three to four weeks away" from returning to play, Marshall said.

"There were a few more training yesterday - we actually had a huge amount on the field yesterday which is promising signs. Will [Jordan] is getting closer, [Cullen Grace] is getting closer.

"A few more cattle are coming back so it's exciting times."

It's also business time for the six-time defending champions with the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs fast approaching and the Crusaders sitting fourth.

Marshall said the side's intensity has picked up with the thought of knockout rugby nearing.

"Everyone knows we're building towards the games at the end of the year," he said.

"It's a top eight comp, we're already in the top eight I'd imagine so it's going to come down to three massive games at the end of the year so making sure we've timed our run so they're the best three games of the year is hugely important."

With that in mind, the Crusaders have already started preparing for those matches and an opponent they could very likely end up playing given their form; the Chiefs.

The undefeated Chiefs sit top of the table and have earned their status as title contenders this season with an in-form Damian McKenzie conducting the backline and an equally-impressive forward pack setting the platform.

The Crusaders were thumped by the Chiefs in their opening game of the season 31-10 in Christchurch but will have a chance to fish out some revenge after Melbourne when they head to Hamilton for a rematch next Saturday.

As such, Marshall said the Crusaders are already preparing for the encounter with revision of Chiefs game footage.

"They're a quality outfit," Marshall said. "They're definitely the frontrunners and while we wont get ahead of this week but that game [against the Chiefs] is just around the corner.

"After today's training, we're pretty much done other than the captains run so we'll get into the Chiefs after today's training and get a good look at them - especially when you're over in Melbourne in the hotel room, you get a lot of time to sit there and watch Chiefs footage.

"There'll be no shortage of study done on them."