As the applause died down after a sensational 66-0 win over the Melbourne Rebels, the Crusaders earned Top Seeding to seal the Ryan Crotty 150th match, in fine style.
And style is what returned to the Scott Robertson coached-side on Saturday. That was after suffering a second loss for the year to the Chiefs a week earlier (to go along with two drawn games). So a return to razzle-dazzle, winning fashion has rewarded the franchise with top seeding for the 2019 Super Rugby Finals Series.
The win was built around the celebration of longtime Crusaders player, Ryan Crotty. The Canterbury native son was claiming his part of history, as only one of less than a dozen players, to reach the 150-game mark.
The pregame ritual of sending the player alone down the tunnel was applauded by 150 kids from his New Brighton rugby club. It certainly tugged at the heartstrings, and to top off the Ryan Crotty 150th match, there was a genuine challenger.
Crusaders v Melbourne Rebels set-up as ‘clutch game’
The Australian Conference of 2019 is not the same weakened animal who rugby fans have sniggered at for years. Not since 2014, when the NSW Waratahs clinched their title, or the Queensland Reds in 2011, has this conference appeared to be a genuine threat.
That was how it was set-up.
And while few would have anticipated the figure, it was how quickly any threat was extinguished, that has rugby pundits re-evaluating the Melbourne sides promise. They had claimed seven victories, yet many others were ‘lost chances’. So following on a narrow local derby loss to the Waratahs, it needed them to be fully focused on the task at hand.
All eyes on the Crusaders 👀 pic.twitter.com/RLpefIIoSl
— Melbourne Rebels (@MelbourneRebels) June 4, 2019
Not considering the motivation that came naturally when this Ryan Crotty 150th match began, the occasion seemed to inject the home side with some much-needed fuel and fire. Some intent and desire to ‘put things right’. And in fact, having an opponent arrive who could have threatened, was exactly what the Crusader faithful are programmed to
So when the hosts put 50 points on the visitors within the opening half, it seemed to crush the ambitions of the Rebels. Matt To’omua was running the cutter, but it was more about defending than any sustained form of attack.
The fans were enjoying it, and feedback post-game was that the shock-and-awe factor of the Crusaders power game, just aced this challenge. Near perfect, if not for taking the foot off the pedal too early (as admitted by the team).
Challenge met during the Ryan Crotty 150th match.
Substitutes all earned their keep, with Tim Perry returning from a fractured arm. The pack were consistently over the advantage line, with Kieran Read showing good form.
Add in the sublime work from Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue. With halfback Bryn Hall and outside backs Sevu Reece, Braydon Ennor and David Havili all contributing. Between them all, they scored nine tries, on another big Crusaders win.
Sevu Reece 🏉🏉🏉
David Havili 🏉🏉
Braydon Ennor 🏉🏉🏉
On Ryan Crotty's 150th #SuperRugby appearance for the @crusadersrugby, they have smashed the Rebels 66-0 at home, scoring ten tries and keeping the Rebels scoreless. The best team performance of the season so far? pic.twitter.com/vB0QvdRIpt
— SuperSport (@SuperSportTV) June 8, 2019
And to top off the evening’s festivities, Ryan Crotty helped himself to his 24th Super Rugby try. And, just for kicks, he showed his all-around skills base, to convert his own try.
Just a marvelous outing and it got even better when the Crusaders secured top seeding for the Finals Series.
Crusaders earn Top Seeding after Ryan Crotty 150th match
With a bye now sitting comfortably in the current title-holders schedule, the week off might be a saving grace. As now, Scott Robertson can work primarily on motivation, because he and his men have no idea who they may face in the quarterfinals.
This is because of the tight nature of the 2019 contest. It means that the teams from positions 5-12 all have a chance of finishing within the top eight.
However fortunate, or unfortunate – from whichever perspective you see it – these eight sides all play each other in Round 18. Fortuitous, dramatic, or possibly a little confusing to fans, it might see some strange calculations earn one or more sides a place in the 2019 Finals Series.
— Nigel Yalden 🇳🇿 (@NigelYalden) June 9, 2019
Such ‘wildcard machinations’ could make for an exciting Round 18 summary. The last hurrah for some, prior to [any team other than the Crusaders] in knowing their pathway to the final. The Crusaders know if they can perform during the Finals Series, home advantage will be a confidence booster.
Unknown Finals Challenge sure to be met by Coaching Group
Not knowing who they will face may bring some uncertainty, yet an innovative coaching group like the 2017/18 champions have, will mean they take it in their stride. Ronan O’Gara has numerous years of knockout rugby experience as a player, as do assistant coaches Jason Ryan and the departing Brad Mooar.
A team like this though, with leaders like Sam Whitelock, Kieran Read, and Ryan Crotty, will be inspired by both new and familiar challenges. They saw off the threat from a somewhat revived Australian side on Saturday so will fear no team. Be it a visiting South African one, or a fellow New Zealand competitor.
With their huge amount of experience combined, when marking the Ryan Crotty 150th game and the strong culture of the franchise, that should see them continue to perform at the highest levels over the next month. No talk of a three-peat yet, but all probability is pointing to a great send-off for several key me; including Crotty.
Ryan Crotty, alongside Kieran Read are scheduled to end their Super Rugby careers, at the end of the 2019 season.
“Main video credit – AllBlacks.com“