“They nailed it” has been the answer, when people have asked Crusaders fans how their team have managed to win the last three weeks. Especially in Dunedin and in Brisbane, the last-minute victories tasting sweet in Canterbury. It leaves the Crusaders fans grateful (obviously) but what is at the heart of their issues?
How can their Super Rugby team continues to evade loss? The last few games, has seen some escapes when being behind on the scoreboard. So the issue is, how to stop leaking points by the opposition and make a transition to leading early. And ‘putting the match to bed’ early.
Game-by-game, the seven-time Champions have given points away, before stealing a win late in the game. Down on the board, they make dramatic returns in form to claim victory. Exciting rugby, although last night was not as dramatic. But still–they leave their supporters reaching for an Aspirin, or consult a heart surgeon at worst!
Crusaders Fans Grateful for Comeback Qualities
After the heart rates had settled (all jokes aside) fans will have gone on to clubs, pubs and to gatherings. What they said to each other would have been of interest. After admitting ‘that was another get out of Jail act’ there will certainly be praise. Praise for the team, for the shirt and for the points claimed.
But can they also ask ‘please stop this pattern’.
Often, the close games can go either way, and with so many outcomes in succession it may now be more habit forming. Just as the great Canterbury sides of the early 1980’s were in the habit of winning, it is a quality to hold on to.
Coaches and players would prefer to build a lead and complete the task, but they are holding their nerve–that makes Crusaders fans grateful, and that process deserves high praise.
Crusaders 33 – Tries: Manasa Mataele, Pete Samu, Ben Funnell, Mitch Hunt, Mitchell Drummond; Conversions: Hunt (4)
Blues 24 – Tries: George Moala (2) Augustine Pulu; Con: Piers Francis (3); Penalty: Francis (1)
For the visitors, they had chances to hold off the resurgence, Leading at halftime, the tiny scattering of Blues supporters did try to raise their voice–but like the team, even a double from their best player George Moala was not enough.
Another Classic New Zealand Derby Match
Any match report can only come up with one conclusion – a fight back. That might not describe the entire 80 minutes; with the opening charge from the Blues (leading 0-21) before the Crusaders ran-down and then overhauled the visitors in the 72nd minute. Comeback might be better called being simply overwhelmed.
So Tana Umaga will leave again, disheartened. The poor record now reads 13 years of losing to the Crusaders in Christchurch. And over that time, sides like the Melbourne Rebels have beaten the Crusaders. The Sharks too, and last year the Hurricanes went down to Christchurch and ‘blew them away’. So it can be done.
But recently, and over the course of Crusader history [even back to the Templar Knights] it is a never say die attitude that gets them many victories. Maybe it is in the name? Would the Blues win more matches if their moniker were more than just a colour?
Comeback Quality Something to be Proud of
How many times can a side make the ultimate reversal in fortunes? Crusaders fans will say it is in their character. That the teams before 2017 have paved the way. And to a degree, that is true–possibly apart from the 2014, where one Richie McCaw still kicks himself for that penalty.
In recent occasions, when they get themselves into a hole, that self-belief kicks in. No big speeches made, it is just a look from the senior players like Sam Whitelock (see below image) or Luke Romano. Any member of the side knows, they need to follow the lead. It is that nod, that unsaid command that it an essential quality that must be handed to any player signing for the franchise. New men like Mitch Hunt have picked it up effortlessly, as has Whetu Douglas.
How could it not inspire, when you have centurions like Wyatt Crockett (above image) and Whitelock there to rely on. Nearly 300 games for the ‘red and blacks’ between them, it can only hearten any players performance.
In-built Qualities at the Crusaders Franchise
The talent that is drawn into this franchise; simply due to the past success, is a factor. As a player, if they are considered by the Christchurch side, then the player will feel that the history and high standards must be maintained. Qualities ingrained by the Crusaders are then improved on. Men who struggled elsewhere, are rebuilt into new, and better men.
And while the silverware may have eluded the team in recent years, the luster of being a ‘Crusader’ has not. Many have shifted from New Zealand franchise because of the sides strong history and become different men. Nemani Nandolo, Zac Guildford, Ron Cribb, Ali Williams and others. Players [often lost] who are then embraced by the culture, who then thrive in the environment. It is a little bit like magic dust from Tinkerbell [figuratively speaking].
If there may not be any magic dust, it is just an ethic that builds up the natural in-built qualities. Where men today like Hunt and Bryn Hall are evidence that the pull of the ‘Saders is still a major factor. Head coach Scott Robertson too felt it, when he shifted from the Bay of Plenty. The region puts players on a pedestal–unlike Auckland, who seem to enjoy ‘cutting them down’.
Less Tall Poppies in Christchurch Franchise
And in their fanbase, the belief runs true. No bagging of players (even when losing). Todd Blackadder was never ‘run out of town’ like a Blues head coach would be. And while the classic New Zealand character flaw of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ is not apparent in Canterbury, they appreciate hard work.
Sides that play hard–the Chiefs–are respected. Teams who play with flair–the Hurricanes–are also given high ratings. But the North v South clash last night is in a way the clearest example of ‘them and us’. Aucklander’s have a reputation, and the Super Rugby team have seen bad times; which has resulted in bad habits forming.
They say ‘up in Auckland, you put down your players’. That may not be wholly true, but with the majority of sports media in that city, the magnifying glass-effect is apparent. Examined closely, while the Highlanders and Crusaders [to a lesser degree] operate in freedom. Fans watch them practice, see them in the shopping mall and say ‘good on ya mate’.
That wholesome feel is what gives players inner-strength. Self belief, something Umaga speaks of post-match, but finds hard to call on. No such problem in the Crusaders camp. A nod, a look, and locals and imported players alike know ‘it’s time to get serious here’.
And win. They are doing that well in Crusader country this season. Just get ahead on the board earlier next time–and the Aspirin can be put back in the cupboard.
The Crusaders meet the Western Force next week, on Friday March 24 at AMI Stadium, Christchurch.
“Main photo credit”