Cru­saders en­joy ‘nice time’

The Timaru Herald - - Sport - Robert van Royen robert.van­[email protected]

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.

PHO­TO­SPORT

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.

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