Crusaders enjoy ‘nice time’
Little should bother Scott Robertson when he kicks back and soaks up the rays in Fiji the coming week.
The Crusaders’ head coach can relax knowing his team has hit the halfway mark of the season not just in control of the New Zealand conference, but with arguably the toughest stretch of the regular season behind them.
Sure, the question mark hovering over tighthead prop Owen Franks, who requires a further scan on his wrenched shoulder, could play on his mind, but the red-and-blacks are well poised to make a run at a three-peat.
After belting the Highlanders 43-17 in Christchurch on Friday night to improve their record to 7-1-1, they’re 11 points clear of the chasing pack, including the Hurricanes.
With six clashes against fellow New Zealand teams, including the cancelled fixture against the Highlanders in Dunedin, done and dusted, they’ve got only two NZ derbies – against the Chiefs (away) and Blues (home) – to play.
‘‘It is a nice time. When we looked at the draw initially, we thought ‘nine games in a row, we’re the last team to have a bye’. But, actually, it’s been quite good for us in a lot of ways because with the All Blacks’ resting policy, we’ve had to rotate and it’s been great for our All Blacks, they’re really fresh. It’s challenged us to use our whole squad,’’ Robertson said.
While the team’s All Blacks must front for a ‘foundation day’ in Wellington today, the squad is not due to report to work at the Crusaders’ Rugby Park headquarters until Monday week, ahead of their home match against the Lions on April 26.
Robertson has told his players and assistants to get away from the sport and re-charge.
‘‘It’s important we get away from rugby heaven, Rugby Park,’’ Robertson said. ‘‘I’m going to head to Fiji with the family, it’s a great time of the year, school holidays and it’s been three months since we’ve had a weekend off, so it will be a good chance to turn the phone off.
‘‘We’ve done a lot of planning for the Lions already, so I can turn the computer off, as well. I will flick on Stuff now and then and see what you write.’’
Reflecting on the first nine weeks of the season before going on leave, Robertson’s thoughts ran deep.
Despite their continued dominance – the Crusaders now boast a 41-1-4 record since Robertson took charge in 2017 – it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.
The Christchurch mosque shootings, the day before the Crusaders and Highlanders agreed to cancel their March 16 game in Dunedin, hit the team hard. It is no secret the questions which surfaced regarding the team’s name and branding after the shootings also impacted the team.
There was also Israel Dagg’s retirement, season-ending injuries to wing Manasa Mataele (knee) and flanker Tom Sanders (shoulder), and the emotional 20-12 defeat to the Waratahs in Sydney in their first postshooting match.
On a more positive note, there was the two-year contract extensions Robertson and forwards coach Jason Ryan signed.
‘‘It’s been interesting. There’s been a little bit of adversity. There’s been a few injuries, there’s been debuts, there’s been come from behind wins. The stuff that has happened in our community all hurt us,’’ Robertson said.
‘‘I’m just really proud we stayed tight, trusted our system, we’re still having fun every week, and we’ve got good momentum.’’
The Crusaders are expected to have hooker Codie Taylor (calf) and wing George Bridge (knee) available for the rematch of the 2017 and 2018 finals with the Lions, but Franks has already been ruled out.
Will Jordan looks a happy man as he runs in to score one of the Crusaders’ six tries in their convincing win over the Highlanders.