It is certainly time to give the Crusaders some long-overdue attention. They’ve earned it, unsexy as they may be with that no-nonsense pack and those (mostly) no-name backs.
In case you haven’t been paying attention Scott Robertson’s men haven’t lost a match in Super Rugby. They’re 10-0, with 46 points, after 11 rounds and are four points clear of the second-placed Lions, 16 in front of the third-placed Stormers and 28 north of the fourth-placed Brumbies (don’t ask, it’s Sanzaar maths).
They’re the only team in the competition who have yet to taste defeat and are in a great position to secure the all-important No.1 playoff seeding if they can hold off the challenges of the Lions, as well as the Chiefs (42pts) and Hurricanes (38, with one less game) closer to home who have both lost just once and could yet haul in the Red and Blacks.
Yet there’s a surprising lack of fanfare surrounding the Crusaders’ achievements thus far. Imagine, say, if the Blues were 10-0 and pumping everyone in sight. It would be media carnage in the big city as national outlets queued up to shout it from the rooftops.
Instead the Crusaders win 10 straight and there’s almost a collective shrug of the shoulders, outside of Christchurch at least. Man, this is a tough audience.
Right now here’s some things to be impressed about regarding the best start the Crusaders have made to a season since they went unbeaten through their entire 2002 campaign.
They’re not just frontrunners. Yes, they’ve run up some big scores over recent weeks as they’ve found some impressive momentum. But remember early in the season when they were forced to dig out of deep holes to defeat the Highlanders, Reds and Blues?
That was clutch. That was character. That was poise.
They’ve also shaken off some tough injuries. Kieran Read missed the start of the season while he recovered from his off-season wrist surgery, and is out again now with a fractured thumb. Israel Dagg has hardly played (though due back soon), and Richie Mo’unga, Seta Tamanivalu, Digby Ioane and Jack Goodhue have all spent spells in the casualty ward. But the show rumbles on.
The pack has been magnificent. No surprise there given the presence of so much hardcore All Black talent. But that’s a heck of a foundation this team has every single time they run on the paddock.
But it’s the backs that have been the revelation. The knock on the Crusaders in recent years is that their back attack has been too lateral and lacked genuine line-breaking ability. And their approach just a little conservative.
Not this year. The backline unit has been on fire, giving it a lash and fellows like George Bridge, David Havili, Tamanivalu, Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, Mo’unga and Mitch Hunt have all delivered.
Then there’s new coach Robertson.
Razor, as he was known in his playing days, appears to have connected beautifully with his players and has brought a freshness and attacking mindset that is delivering remarkable results for a rookie coach.
- Marc Hinton/Stuff