The recipe for success
By Roger Childs
The Christchurch based franchise overcame the travel, altitude and 60,000 screaming Lions fans to win the Super Rugby title on Saturday. The result confirmed what most fans knew: they were the best team in the competition, just ahead of the Hurricanes.
They were very well coached by Scott Robertson and his staff, and were steeped in the traditional Canterbury rugby culture which has been a key factor in bringing competition success so often in the past.
However, there were a number of very good teams in the mix, notably the other four New Zealand franchises. What made the Crusaders the best side?
The will to win
Three times in February -March they came from behind to win late in the game. At Forsyth Barr, they would have lost to the Highlanders but for a 70 minute decision by the referee to send Malakai Fekitoa off after a Crusader jumped all over him trying to win the ball in the air.
The visitors needed two tries to take the game, and this they did by exploiting their 7-6 advantage in the backs.
Then the next week they just got home late in the game against the Reds in Brisbane, after trailing on the scoreboard for most of the match.
Seven days on, the Blues had much the better of the first half in the Christchurch clash, and used their talented backline to excellent effect to be 24- 6 up at half time.
This was a classic “game of two halves” and the Crusaders pack, the best in the competition, steam-rolled the visitors in the second spell. The depth in the home team’s scrum was shown when two All Blacks, Wyatt Crockett and Luke Romano, came on off the bench to provide “fresh legs” soon after half time.
Blues coach, Tana Umaga, opted to leave his forward replacements until the last quarter, which proved to be too late. The Crusaders steamed home 33-24.
After these early scares the team went unbeaten, before having their only loss: to the Hurricanes in the last match of round-robin play.
Success built on a strong forward pack ….
He is a magnificent player, hidden slightly by Retallick, but his equal in my view. Japanese based rugby expert Neil Smith, on Sam Whitelock
Seven of the Crusaders forwards who ran out on to Ellis Park on Saturday were All Blacks. And there were two more sitting on the bench! Not many teams have three international props, so not surprisingly the front row has been formidable throughout the season.
Other Super Rugby teams understandably, found it hard to match the powerful Crusader forwards. All Black lock, Sam Whitelock, led the team very well and he was partnered in the middle of the scrum by the talented Scott, the biggest of the fabulous Barrett boys.
The loose forwards have also been a class act with All Black captain Kieran Read in the back, and Jordan Taufua and Matt Todd on the flanks. The latter are among the best in the world in winning turnovers, very much in the Josh Kronfeld mould.
…. and a competent set of backs
While not able to quite match the Hurricanes for flair and individual talent, The Crusaders were a great defensive side. The key man in the backline was Ryan Crotty: an excellent defender as well as a centre capable of first breaking the line and then being able to set up his outsides for scoring opportunities.
All Blacks Israel Dagg and Seta Tamanivalu provided plenty of speed on the wings, and David Harvili was often dynamic coming in from fullback as the extra man in the line.
Richie Mo’unga has steadily improved at this elite level and his goal kicking proved crucial in some tight matches. His handling has been excellent and he was often instrumental is setting up try scoring counter-attacks.
Simply the best
Basically the Crusaders were a well balanced side capable of defending for long periods and taking advantage of the scoring opportunities that came their way.
They were well coached and had plenty of self-belief in their ability to win, even against the odds.
They are indeed worthy champions of the toughest rugby competition on the planet.