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WELLINGTON (Reuters) - The Canterbury Crusaders have identified Beauden Barrett as the danger man ahead of their Super Rugby showdown against the Wellington Hurricanes on Saturday and plan to starve the flyhalf of quick ball to nullify the threat.
The Crusaders lead the New Zealand conference, and overall standings, on 46 points with the Waikato Chiefs on 42 and the Hurricanes, who have played one less game, on 38.
Despite having won all 10 of their games so far this season, the Crusaders see match-ups against the Hurricanes on Saturday and the Chiefs in Suva on May 19 as the true examination of their title credentials.
"I suppose the next two weeks, the local derbies against the Chiefs and the Hurricanes, is the real test," Crusaders assistant coach Leon MacDonald told reporters this week.
"Once we get through the next two weeks we will know really where are at, and things will be a little bit more real."
The assessment by the former All Blacks fullback is based on the fact that the tail end of the season is loaded with local derbies. The Crusaders and Hurricanes play each other twice in the final six weeks of matches, while the Chiefs face both the Crusaders and Hurricanes.
The Crusaders are taking each game as it comes and have identified the 25-year-old Barrett as a key threat.
They know they must curb the flyhalf's ability to exploit space, either with his searing pace or kicking, which has driven the Hurricanes to some destructive periods of play this season even if they have not kept it up for a full 80 minutes.
"He is a special player and we all know that," MacDonald added. "The real strength ... is his ability to read the play on the go. It doesn't need to be pre-called. He will see space and attack it."
The Hurricanes' only loss this season was against the Chiefs at a wet Hamilton, while both the New South Waratahs and Stormers caused problems by holding the ball through phases or using a disciplined set-piece, something the All Blacks-laden Crusaders pack are also likely to do.
"You have to take away his time," Crusaders captain Matt Todd said of Barrett.
"We have to put him under pressure and I guess that starts at cutting off the good quality ball.
"You give him too much quality ball then he burns you."
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by Peter Rutherford