In a season of change, the Crusaders will be directed by a new voice in 2017. New head coach Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson is a breath of fresh air from the former leadership of Todd Blackadder. He will also aim to take the team a step closer to a first Super Rugby Championship in nine years of trying.
The former assistant, he is now the standard bearer for a proud franchise that has secured seven titles. And as a man who has played 86 games for the Crusaders himself, he is both a foundation of the team, but also somewhat of an individualist. So the new influence that he brings with his ‘brand of rugby’ will be one to watch.
It will be a season of adjustment, and while he may have All Black captain Kieran Read, veteran Wyatt Crockett, Matt Todd, Ryan Crotty and 2017 franchise captain Sam Whitelock in his line-up, those senior figures will only be available ‘at times’. Most will not be there in Round One, and taken at times for All Blacks duty, which will test the group dynamic.
For this reason, Scott Robertson will need to re-design a team that does not rely solely on seniority. In the past, the management seemed ill prepared when the ‘big names’ disappeared. So how the wily and sometimes excitable coach approaches this important factor, will be interesting to say the least.
Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson – the Crusader
The recent head coach of Canterbury, Robertson collected the last of his three National Provincial Championships in October, so he brings unchallenged success with him. By the time of his appointment last season, he had built up a very impressive resume of accomplishments. But more than that–he is unique.
That is in attitude and visibly; from those long locks, sunglasses and flat-cap, to his casual outlook, which were born of a kid from the Bay of Plenty. Taking his rugby career down to the Sumner Rugby Club in Canterbury, he successfully ingrained himself into ‘Red and Black’ country. Playing alongside Blackadder, Andrew Merhtens and current Waratahs head coach, Daryl Gibson (see below), it was a peak period for the region.
Robertson is also known for his commitment to training and his rugby brain. It brought rewards, as the rangy flanker made it into an All Blacks jersey. Playing at a time of mixed success for New Zealand, a highlight was his involvement in the last-minute, come from behind win over Argentina in 2001 [preventing a first ever loss to the South American team].
After a period offshore, he opted to enter the coaching world, where his ability to build strong relationships and to get the best from his players was a strong suit. That will be a key attribute in 2017. Here, along with his assistants Brad Mooar, Leon MacDonald and Jason Ryan, they need to find their feet fast, and use the past as well as future direction.
New Team Must Improve On Past ‘Learnings’
The new group will inherit a well organised side, but not an entirely successful one. No disrespect to the former management team, but they came close–on many, many occasions–but failed to complete that task. In 2014, they came within a whisker.
Blackadder has left a mark on the Crusaders, and on the Canterbury rugby landscape that is indelible. Successful as a player, it did not entirely translate into his tenure as coach. He did plenty right; especially in the trying 2011 season [fractured by the February Christchurch earthquake]. The former All Blacks leader showed his ability to bring the team together then, taking them all the way to a Grand Final–without ever having played a game in their home city.
Where in the last few seasons, it was very nearly successful, the Crusaders fanbase will be wanting more. That could seem difficult; and possibly a little over confident in only the first season under Scott Robertson. But the coach will demand that from his team–if more to motivate and develop the squad for the future. His outward energy will be starting off on the right foot, and to draw on the strong group that Blackadder had assembled before him.
Crusaders 2017 Squad
“Within the squad of 38, we are boasting five players who have played more than 100 games for this team–Israel Dagg on 99 Super Rugby caps and Matt Todd on 94. We [Crusaders] had eleven players away with the All Blacks, and a further six players who represented either the Maori All Blacks or Barbarians teams, so we have a talented group. And we are complementing that with some incredibly exciting raw talent in 2017,” Robertson says on the Crusaders website.
His management team have invested in local, and offshore players to be sure when his group begin the year, and when they face the British and Irish Lions at AMI Stadium; they are ready. Especially when without leading All Blacks, they must still perform at peak before the short International window break in June/July.
As important as that is, the franchise will especially need a good start as they are famous slow burners. That trend must end, and the best possible correction for that is for the squad to perform.
Crusaders Team for Round One Will Be Selected from;
Forwards: Michael Alaalatoa, Wyatt Crockett, Oliver Jager, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Andrew Makalio, Codie Taylor, Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Quinten Strange, Sam Whitelock (captain), Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jed Brown, Mitchell Dunshea, Kieran Read, Pete Samu, Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd.
Backs: Mitchell Drummond, Leon Fukofuka, Bryn Hall, Tim Bateman, Marty McKenzie, Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue, David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Sean Wainui, George Bridge, Israel Dagg, Sione Fifita, Mitchell Hunt, Digby Ioane, Jone Macilai and Manasa Mataele.
Robertson says “I am delighted with the squad we have named. I believe we have the ideal mix of experience and emerging talent, and a brilliant balance of skills across the park.”
“I cannot wait to get started with the 2017 group.”
Rebuilding Franchise With Both Old and New
While he has retained a good core of players, Robertson has also lost some talent. His Crusaders of 2017 will have to replace key men like Johnny McNicholl, Nemani Nadolo, Jimmy Tupou (shifted north to the Blues), Tim Boys, Kieron Fonotia, Andrew Ellis, Robbie Fruean and Ged Robinson [retired]. That will surely test his coaching group’s ability to select, and to integrate new signings, like Digby Ioane.
One decision that Robertson will have been aware of since last season [as assistant] and during the Canterbury Mitre 10 Cup season, was the number ten role. Three first fives had been operating during the 2016 season, and between Richie Mo’unga, Marty McKenzie and Australian born Ben Volavola, they all had auditioned for the key position. The fans were looking for the heir apparent to replace the departed Colin Slade and Dan Carter.
While McKenzie had injury issues, and possible allegiance battles with his Taranaki loyalty, the Mo’unga/Volavola battle was supposed to bring out the best in both. It did for the most. They challenged each other and after the dust had settled, today Mo’unga is a Crusader, while Ben Volavola (released) is going to play for the Melbourne Rebels. Not a hostile takeover, it was based on form, and clearly Richie is the future for the Crusaders backline–and a very promising player indeed.
Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson Out to Make a Big Statement
If any coach is as relaxed and comfortable in their skin as Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson is, then NZ Rugby is yet to see them. In the way that Carlos Spencer used to soak up the Canterbury fans booing, and then cooly smile and slot the penalty, Robertson is confident in how he see’s his role. He is a players coach, not too insular, not too stubborn. He is one to embrace both the standard and the modern. Forged with good foundations, Robertson entertains the ‘different’ and the unconventional.
He has toured many different sports and coaching systems, to see what is his own ‘fit’ and then adapted that to his own style. When selected, it was a big step from the Crusaders board [selected ahead of Tabai Matson] while Robertson is saying ‘all the right things’–like all coaches do–the proof will be known after 17 rounds of the toughest competition in the Southern Hemisphere.
Toughest Debut in Super Rugby White-hot Heat
Scott’ Razor’ Robertson has a comfortable confidence in his ability. He told Stuff.co.nz “I feel really privileged to do this (Crusaders head coaching job). I gave the board a clear vision of how I would like to continue that success. I have got my own personality, and that’s who I am”. So not a man to show the hint of trepidation.
Don’t expect the classic speech ‘a game of two halves’ or ‘the team played well’ to be reeled out by Robertson. He will talk straight, he will do things that appear unconventional and if it works out, then he might be the redeemer that the Christchurch franchise needs. No doubt, it will be a great ride!
Hugely popular with players and the fanbase, with Razor in charge, Crusaders Super Rugby may never be the same again. And yes, on occasion, he will breakdance.
No other coach celebrates like Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson……it’s true, watch the video.
“Main photo credit”
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