Crusaders look incomparable, while others do the ‘Playoff dance’

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Crusaders look incomparable, while others do the 'Playoff dance'
CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND - JULY 06: Scott Barrett of the Crusaders (C) is congratulated by team mates after scoring a try during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Highlanders at AMI Stadium on July 6, 2018 in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

After the penultimate weekend of Super Rugby fixtures, only one fact is assured. The Crusaders look incomparable, while others do the ‘Playoff dance’.

Not a fun dance, as the local derby matches have caused some concern, as much as settling other sides nerves. So while the Melbourne Rebels made too many mistakes for a quarter-finalist, the Hurricanes eased fans concerns with a confidence boosting bonus point win.

The most telling word here is ‘bonus’. That is because only limited points are on offer. Teams could only secure a maximum of 10 competition points, before this playoff dance ends. So while positions did little to correct the make-up of the eight teams, it is the failure of some to give themselves a firmer base, that will make this final week a ‘real test of nerves’.

Crusaders look incomparable, while others do the ‘Playoff dance’

No team can head the Crusaders. That is on the competition standings, and very much so, on the field too. Even suffering two back-to-back losses before the first third of the season, from then on, they are undefeated. Having won their last 11 games, the recent win over the Highlanders just reinforced what many already knew.

When the Crusaders look incomparable, it is up to others to meet that high standard. And as the New Zealand side secured their home quarter-final place, they made it with a pathway to a probable 2018 Grand Final in Christchurch.

But before Last Word on Rugby put our foot in our mouths, the last round still needs to be played. As nothing is guaranteed in sport [or life] Crusaders assistant coach Ronan O’Gara is more realistic than others. “It is really important to keep it, but you have got to work it. Because when you lose it, you can’t get it back in a short space of time.

“We are well aware of the teams in the long grass excited to play us, and putting together a plan to beat us,” was the measured comment to Fairfax Media, from the vastly experienced former player.

His attitude will be reflected by others in the Crusaders coaching group. Numbers might be crunched more in 2018, but it is all about staying focused. And while the number one team looks inwardly, others are still admiring their level of play.

In the power rankings for teams, few compare to the Crusaders. It gets even clearer for the eight-time Champions, when the numbers are crunched.

Analytics favours the Crusaders at 57%

Numbers are important. And in sports, the numbers are often based a statistics, results and forecasting.

Even if head coach Scott Robertson and other experienced coaches might all discount the predictions, it has to count for much. The machinations of qualification for any competition final ways heavily on form. In the recent NBL finals series, it was clear from the numbers that; even after emotive wins for the Houston Rockets or the Boston Celtics, the form teams were the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Forecasting meant the odds-on were that the two favourite teams meeting in the final ‘rang true’.

The numbers weighed heavily in those teams favours. Counted over the regular season, player ratings and in home and away history. It was almost predetermined by the stats, that both would qualify and battle it out for the third time in four years.

While some Super Rugby quarter-final places are secured, RadioSport have described the Super Rugby ‘playoff dance’ best. They published ‘it means of the seven games this week, two have nothing riding on them. Reds v Sunwolves and Crusaders v Blues – while the Brumbies are the only side outside of the top eight who still have a chance of making the playoffs’.

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In terms of leadership, it certainly be a pressure-cooker time for some coaches and players (see above). Critical that they take any chances now….or else. If you cannot fulfill your objectives at this end of the season, then you leave your fate in others hands.

In a way, the reasoning that so little can change within the top-tier sides (over Week 19 matches) is not the surprise. What is surprising though, has been how several teams were unable to make advantages from last weekends results. It means they now might have only one final ‘appearance’ on the Super Rugby stage this week, to show their dancing skills.

But seemingly, as the Crusaders look incomparable, some others still seem to be stumbling on their own feet. Funnily – and also of concern to their supporters – only a week before the Finals series begins, not every team can feel totally at ease with who they might face in the playoffs.

Some might still struggle this weekend [the Sharks or Brumbies], but one thing is clear. That the Crusaders are already set on their course, and right now, look incomparable to many others.

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