Crusaders provide fitting farewell

By Wynne Gray

Departing prop Dave Hewett insisted all his team-mates autograph his Crusaders jersey before they began their Super 12 celebrations for victory against the Waratahs.

For seven years he had worn the colours with distinction. He did not want to forget those times or any of the 2005 squad who had made his final season so memorable.

For a long time he stayed in his newly-signed jersey as he talked to wellwishers, media, officials and fans in the corridors under the Christchurch grandstand after the 35-25 victory.

Hewett has been to a few victory parades, played 22 tests for the All Blacks, but Saturday’s conclusion to his Crusaders’ career was special.

Significant enough for the burly prop to want a memento after the "magic ride" ended in success in the final game in the Super 12 series.

Debates will bubble about the merits of various Crusader sides, but Robbie Deans, whose management and coaching tenure has straddled the franchise’s five titles, rated the current side as the most complete. It was an assessment vanquished Waratah No 8 David Lyons endorsed.

"Auckland a few years ago had the counter-attack but this Crusaders side has it all over the park I think."

The locals made more mistakes than usual, they were more cautious than usual but still far too proficient for the Waratahs in their first final.

The Crusaders led 35-6 with the final quarter to run where they eased off and the Waratahs biffed the ball about for three tries. It gave them some respectability on the scoreboard but the outcome was scarcely in question.

Only for 13 minutes in Deans’ view.

When Scott Hamilton scored at that stage after a superbly-weighted grubber from Rico Gear, the Crusaders’ coach thought his side would take out the final.

Deans saw the belief in his team and their confidence to carry the ball as optimistic signs. "I believe this is the best side [in the franchise’s history]," Deans said.

"The key point of difference is the leadership. We have created interdependence between the players and they are initiating and driving play on the field."

The Crusaders’ philosophy was to provide an environment where the players could thrive. It involved many components including strong support, leadership and spirit.

"It is a team game, it is fun," said Deans.

The Waratahs decided to use kicking tactics for much of the match but the execution from Mat Rogers and Lachlan MacKay was modest combined with a poor chasing line.

Coach Ewen McKenzie defended the game plan while the Crusaders were delighted for it to continue.

The Crusaders changed their plans to use Ross Filipo more as a lineout target while they also indulged in more kicking than normal, with mixed success.

In the halftime debrief, Deans also warned that statistics showed the Waratahs often scored after the interval. Instead, Hewett drove over from a maul to change the dynamics of the final.

Further counter-attack tries to Leon MacDonald and Caleb Ralph turned away any thoughts of a meaningful Waratah revival.

Midfield back Aaron Mauger was the sharpest Crusader attacker and strong on defence after previous problems with a pinched nerve in his shoulder, captain Richie McCaw was relentless, while the scrum was all grinding efficiency.

Visiting flanker Phil Waugh conceded the Crusaders were champions because of their extra class.

That status was underlined with the Crusaders collecting half the titles in the history of Super 12.

It seemed entirely appropriate. It seemed rugby’s natural order had returned when the Crusaders’ new skipper Richie McCaw raised the silverware.

 

 

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