Crusaders say Super Rugby still wide open

Daniel Gilhooly

The Crusaders are scotching suggestions Super Rugby has turned into a two-horse race with the Hurricanes, and are even wary of a late Australian revival.

The eight-time champions are short-priced favourites to stretch New Zealand's trans-Tasman winning streak to 39 games when they host the NSW Waratahs on Saturday.

A 55-10 mauling of the Melbourne Rebels suggests the Crusaders are hitting their straps, only adding to the narrative that they and the Hurricanes have opened up a chasm on their rivals this year.

The Hurricanes are on an eight-game tear while the defending champion Crusaders have racked up six on the trot.

Wins for both this weekend will push them up to 10 points clear of the field and create a virtual duel for the top-qualifying berth.

Crusaders scrum coach Jason Ryan was having none of it, with six matches still to negotiate until the play-offs.

"Right now, form and results-wise you'd say the Crusaders and Hurricanes have been the most consistent, that's for sure," he told AAP.

"But across the board I'd say it's pretty even in the New Zealand conference and most other teams have actually shown enough to suggest they can still do something later."

Asked to name an Australian team with the capacity to mount a charge, Ryan nominated the conference-leading Waratahs.

He described their 24-21 loss to the Blues in Sydney as typical of their season.

"They've been playing some nice rugby but they just haven't finished. They've definitely got it in them," he said.

"They've been putting some nice phases together and their forward pack, in particular, has been really trying hard.

"There's six Wallabies in the Waratahs forward pack and Wallabies right across the park. They're going to be desperate to knock us off."

Ryan was delighted to have Test prop Joe Moody back after eight months recovering from shoulder and finger injuries.

However, the Waratahs won't face the daunting prospect of packing down against the likely first-choice All Blacks front row after fellow-prop Owen Franks was rested.

Ryan said All Blacks medical staff had suggested the veteran tighthead play for three weeks then have a week off as part of his return from a long-standing Achilles problem.

"It's just a matter of not overdoing it," Ryan said.

"Owen's definitely keen to play but we just had to hold him back."