Chris Rattue 's Opinion

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue: Old boys club at Crusaders struggling

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Canterbury Super Rugby side no longer benchmark - franchise in desperate need of fresh blood and ideas.

Crusaders Coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Getty Images
Crusaders Coach Todd Blackadder. Photo / Getty Images

Curiosity might have killed the cat but a lack of it has stalled the once mighty Crusaders on a dead-end track.

Coaching inbreeding has turned the champs into comparative chumps. Apart from a lack of punch at blindside flanker, their forward pack is still to be reckoned with but that backline is about as exciting and instinctive as a North Korean political rally and their overall methods are out of a cave.

Watching the Crusaders stumble through their turgid drills at Eden Park left a major question: will they be brave or desperate enough to pick a new coach who wasn't raised under Wayne Smith or Robbie Deans?

Since Deans coached the last of their titles in 2008, there has been one losing finals appearance which is a disaster by the Crusaders' high standards. Deans knew how to make the Crusaders system work, but continually relying on the system doesn't work.

Blackadder promised to "freshen and stimulate" the Crusaders when he took over.

A new pre-season regime was designed to ensure the Crusaders hit the ground running this year. He has failed miserably on both counts.

The Crusaders need fresh blood, fresh ideas. They still have the basis for something special, but lack an attacking vision, a situation epitomised by their wing selections appearing to be afterthoughts.

Blackadder didn't have particularly impressive coaching credentials in the first place, but there was an assumption he could carry on the winning traditions because he knew what they were. He has had a fleet of Crusaders' old boys as his assistants. But nothing lasts forever.

The state of Crusaders rugby was covered up for a short period by Sonny Bill Williams's ball-playing elan, but once he departed the game was up. There is a certain x-factor to coaching and selecting - you either have the magic or you don't. Blackadder doesn't. It's time for the Crusaders to move on.

There is another angle though. The New Zealand Rugby Union runs a closed shop designed almost entirely to build All Black teams. If the Crusaders continue to provide quality foundation blocks for the national team, Steve Tew and his mates will be happy enough to leave the former heavyweights muscling their way around the Super competition. But even the supply of outstanding players will dry up if the Crusaders keep relying entirely on a struggling old boys club.

Brain fade on Dagg

Further to that ... you have to be joking. Replacing Israel Dagg with Colin Slade is among the daftest selection decisions in Super Rugby history. Blackadder had an absolute brain fade on that one. Dagg might be struggling, but he's several classes above the skittish Slade, one of the worst All Blacks of modern times.

Slade had a shocker at Eden Park. Dagg is probably frustrated with Blackadder's game plans and the lack of attacking zest around him - there were strong rumours he wanted out last year.

PR around Blues OTT

There is an astonishing level of positive PR surrounding Sir John Kirwan's Blues. He deserves major credit on one score - Kirwan is promoting the type of players that Aucklanders love to see.

Charles Piutau, George Moala, Frank Halai, Tevita Li, Francis Saili are power runners in the best traditions of rugby in this region. So a big tick for Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry there. But spare us the happy-clappy Kirwan bandwagon just yet.

The Blues finished 10th last year. They started in a messy fashion against the Highlanders.

Yes, they beat the Crusaders in round two, but the Crusaders no longer provide the Super yardstick, are notoriously slow starters and were in shabby form at Eden Park.

Simon Hickey, the fifth first five-eighths the Blues have used this year, is well short of proving he is a top drawer No10. As for wonder signing Benji Marshall: he's getting more advertising time than on the field.

Warner walks the talk

It's easy not to like yappy Aussie cricket opener David Warner, but very difficult not to admire his batting. Warner produced another sensational innings in the third test against South Africa. His rate of scoring surpasses what the likes of Matthew Hayden achieved. Warner is walking the walk. He has stood up to the best attack in world cricket and torn it apart. Some of his shot making is stunning but he is also a clever manipulator to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Hurrell's horror off-season

A new NRL season, and a new-look Warriors lineup. But what the heck was Konrad Hurrell up to?

The power centre conceded he ate his way through a short off-season and returned badly out of shape.

This was the very point Hurrell - overlooked for Sunday's opener against the Eels - needed to raise the fitness bar. Instead, he had to work extra hard under trainer Ruben Wiki just to get back to square one.

Hurrell has so much potential as a match-winner and is mind-blowing to watch, but his lack of dexterity and stamina is a massive conundrum for coach Matthew Elliott.

It was disappointing to read about what can only be described as a lack of professionalism by Hurrell over the Christmas period. I've long suspected he is one of those players known as sneaky eaters.

The big problem with Hurrell is he needs game time to be fit enough for action. Big forwards are assisted by rotation, but centres are expected to last the distance.

- NZ Herald

Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Chris Rattue writes about a wide range of sports for the New Zealand Herald. He has covered numerous sporting events for the Herald including Rugby World Cups and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Read more by Chris Rattue

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