Farewells can wait, say finalists
NZPA
May 29, 2008

Sentimentality is thin on the ground in both camps as the Crusaders and New South Wales focus on the nitty-gritty of how to win a Super 14 rugby final.

It will be tunnel vision this week, both teams said today and emphasised with their team selections, despite the veil of emotion that will cloak AMI Stadium here on Saturday night.

A Crusaders side chasing their sixth Super rugby title insist the imminent departure of long-serving coach Robbie Deans, stalwarts Reuben Thorne and Caleb Ralph and potentially more of their teammates is having no impact on preparations.

First five-eighth Daniel Carter is one who may well be missing next season but said it had been steady sailing all week and would be right up to kickoff.

"Nothing's really changed, we've gone through all the usual routines," Carter said.

"We're here as a team and I'm sure those guys (leaving) won't be thinking about that at all until after the game.

"Hopefully we can send them off in the right way."

Likewise, the Waratahs have adopted a pragmatic stance despite standing on the edge of a maiden Super rugby title and farewelling coach of five years Ewen McKenzie.

It was down to the business of team naming today, where reality again ruled over romance.

Deans, who has again preferred Tim Bateman over All Blacks prospect Stephen Brett at second five-eighth, also found no room in the starting 15 for franchise mainstays Thorne and Ralph.

Former All Blacks and Crusaders skipper Thorne, 33, is on the bench and should get a late appearance in his record ninth Super rugby final and mark the end of a 13-year New Zealand first class career.

Deans found time to acknowledge the Thorne contribution.

"He's been an integral part of this era, he's an archetypal Crusader really," Deans said.

"You lose a bloke who understands the meaning, understands what it's all about, who's been a great source of support and strength to people around him."

Likewise it had been difficult to leave Ralph out of the squad altogether, with the wing/centre on the verge of two notable competition records.

He will finish one game short of the Super rugby record 136 matches played by ACT Brumbies great George Gregan and one try shy of the competition record 58 from Blues winger Doug Howlett.

"It's tough, it's one of those sad realities that we all finish frustrated," Deans said of a player whose career was a testament to professionalism.

"There have been a lot who have been blessed with talent but haven't really pushed on and made the most of it. They've expected the talent to carry them when the reality is you don't get anywhere without perseverance and work ethic."

For the Waratahs, Welsh-bound veteran No 8 David Lyons failed a fitness test on his hamstring this morning and has been sidelined for a second week, with Beau Robinson retained in his bench spot.

McKenzie paid tribute to former Wallaby Lyons, who raised his century of matches for the state in what has been an injury-riddled season.

"It's disappointing him because he's been such a stalwart for us. We were hoping to count on his experience," he said.

Both teams changed their starting hookers, as expected, but otherwise have kept the same teams who were so impressive in the semifinals last Saturday.

Ti'i Paulo replaces injured Crusaders rake Corey Flynn, having performed strongly for 68 minutes in the 33-22 win over the Hurricanes. Wider training group hooker Steve Fualau comes onto the bench for a baptism of fire.

First-choice hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau is restored as a Waratahs starter after missing the 28-13 pounding of the Sharks in Sydney, with Adam Freier dropping to the bench.

Deans made a plea for a large crowd after just 18,000 watched the semifinal last weekend although stressed in typical style that they shouldn't come merely as a last hurrah before he leaves for Australia.

"They'll be coming for the contest first and foremost," Deans said.

"Finals are always great, the intensity, the uncertainty is what the sport's all about."

Both teams trained in warm, sunny conditions on Thursday, with the Waratahs missing an ice cold morning frost because they were sleeping in to adjust time zones.

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