Cru­saders’ in­deli­ble legacy

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT -

It was im­pos­si­ble not to ad­mire the clin­i­cal way Todd Black­ad­der’s Cru­saders de­stroyed the Reds in their Su­per rugby show­down over the week­end.

Af­ter their 38-9 de­mo­li­tion of the Reds, the Cru­saders have reached the semi-fi­nals yet again. They haven’t been out of the top four since 2001.

The ef­fect the Cru­saders have had on New Zealand rugby since the game went pro­fes­sional has been colos­sal.

Amaz­ingly, the Cru­saders fin­ished last, with just two wins, in the first year of Su­per rugby, 1996.

But since then, they have won the crown seven times and made 10 fi­nals. Not sur­pris­ingly, they have pro­vided a vast ar­ray of All Blacks.

It is one thing for a team to en­joy a fan­tas­tic sea­son or two, as the Chiefs are now, and as the Blues did in the 1990s, but to keep pro­duc­ing the goods year af­ter year is much more im­pres­sive.

Just look at how the for­merly mighty Magic net­ball fran­chise is fall­ing apart with the de­par­ture of coach Noe­line Tau­rua. The Cru- saders have sur­vived changes of coaches and cap­tains, re­tire­ments, sab­bat­i­cals and in­juries, and kept on win­ning.

Su­per­stars An­drew Mehrtens, Daniel Carter, Justin Mar­shall and Richie McCaw have claimed many head­lines, but I’ve been equally im­pressed with how good­ish play­ers like Reuben Thorne, Caleb Ralph, Leon Mac­Don­ald, Daryl Gib­son, Aaron Mauger, Scott Robert­son, Greg Feek, Mark Ham­mett and An­drew El­lis have been so much bet­ter when wear­ing Cru­saders colours.

The fran­chise has the abil­ity to squeeze the max­i­mum out of most play­ers – a rare gift.

If we look at the Su­per rugby land­scape, the Blues, Hur­ri­canes and Cru­saders have had plenty of tal­ent to call on each sea­son. The High­landers have had a smaller tal­ent pool and the Chiefs took more than a decade to get some co­he­sive­ness in their cam­paigns af­ter fi­nally sort­ing out prob­lems aris­ing from the ge­og­ra­phy of the fran­chise.

Why then is the Cru­saders’ record so much bet­ter than ev­ery­one else’s?

Auck­land dom­i­nated New Zealand rugby from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, and pro­vided the base for All Black teams in that pe­riod. The Auks brought un­doubted abil­ity to the All Blacks, but also a rather dis­taste­ful ar­ro­gance.

Since then, Can­ter­bury and the Cru­saders have been the All Blacks’ engine room, and their play­ers’ hon­est en­deav­our has been laud­able.

Suc­ces­sive Cru­saders coaches Wayne Smith, Rob­bie Deans and Todd Black­ad­der and cap­tains Reuben Thorne and McCaw have moulded just the sort of char­ac­ter All Black teams have needed.

One fea­ture of the Cru­saders is that when they sim­ply have to win, they can pro­duce the goods.

In 2002 they were so supreme they went through the sea­son un­beaten, the only Su­per team to man­age that feat. But in other years the ti­tle race has come down to one crit­i­cal match, and gen­er­ally that’s when the Cru­saders are at their best.

Look at this sea­son. They be­gan with four losses in seven matches, but have had just one de­feat since, to the Chiefs. And they turned that re­sult around when they needed to, with a com­pre­hen­sive 43-15 win ear­lier this month.

The Cru­saders have timed their run to perfection, and only a wealthy man would bet against them clos­ing out the sea­son tri­umphantly.

Photo: GETTY

Great lead­ers: Cru­saders coach Todd Black­ad­der and cap­tain Richie McCaw be­fore the play-off match against the Reds. They have been two of the tow­er­ing fig­ures of Cru­saders rugby.

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