Patrick McKendry is a rugby and boxing writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Crusaders out to get measure of old finals foe

Dan Carter is returning to the Crusaders' starting line-up against the Brumbies.  Photo / File
Dan Carter is returning to the Crusaders' starting line-up against the Brumbies. Photo / File

Shortly after Dan Carter expressed his delight at returning to the Crusaders' starting line-up against the Brumbies, he mentioned how once again the men from Canberra are the team to beat, just as they were at the start of his career.

It was a significant comment, just as the history between the Crusaders and Brumbies is a significant one.

The two teams have played each other in three finals - in Canberra in 2000, when the Crusaders won their third consecutive title, in Christchurch in 2002 and in Canberra in 2004, the Brumbies claiming only the latter.

The Crusaders have won seven titles to the Brumbies' two. The Crusaders have been runners-up three times, the Brumbies also three times.

Statistics, however, don't do the rivalry justice. The victory in Canberra in 2000, which allowed the Crusaders to claim a remarkable three successive wins, all on the road, was an epic played out in freezing conditions.

It had snowed the night before the match and the temperatures were close to zero at kick-off.

As in their previous two finals, the Crusaders took the field as underdogs, only to upset the home team and supporters. Todd Blackadder, then the captain, tells in his book Loyal of the atmosphere before the match.

"It was quite low-key for us before the game because it was over there, and to the locals we were just going to be the team that the Brumbies were going to beat to win the Super 12," Blackadder said.

"So the pressure was on them, which was great for us."

Andrew Mehrtens clinched the tense victory for the Crusaders when, with four minutes remaining, he kicked a penalty from 42m into the teeth of the freezing wind to hand his team a 20-19 advantage which they held on to.

Those were the days when after-match functions were still in vogue, with the Brumbies inviting the Crusaders to a meal only to fail to show up, an act which left Blackadder a "little bit cold".

"In rugby someone has to win, someone has to lose, and it's good to have a beer with the opposition ... You should get together."

Fast-forward 13 years and the Brumbies are in the ascendancy again under the leadership of former Springboks coach Jake White.

As the competition leaders, White's men quite rightly will go into the match with plenty of confidence, but, just as in 2000, that could suit the Crusaders, who will be keen to prove a point after several below-par performances.

Now the coach, Blackadder has sent a message with his demotion of All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg to the reserves bench that every player is on notice.

The result of tomorrow's match will be a good indicator of both teams' title pretensions.

The Brumbies have adopted a Crusaders' style game-plan of high-percentage, low-risk rugby, which they adhere to extremely well, but there is no doubt they have their weaknesses. While they did well to draw with the Reds in Brisbane recently, the draw at home against the lowly Kings wasn't a good result.

A victory for the Crusaders, who are in a form dip but tend to respond when the odds are against them, would send them to their bye week on a high.

Carter's return from paternity leave and a hamstring strain is a timely one, although Tom Taylor, who has replaced Dagg at fullback, is likely to kick for goal.

The weather forecast? It's supposed to be fine with the temperature dropping to zero tomorrow night.

Blackadder will hope it's just like old times for the Crusaders in Canberra.

Brumbies v Crusaders

Canberra Stadium, 6.05pm tomorrow

Brumbies: Jesse Mogg, Henry Speight, Tevita Kuridrani, Christian Lealiifano, Joseph Tomane, Matt Toomua, Nic White, Fotu Auelua, George Smith, Ben Mowen, Sam Carter, Peter Kimlin, Dan Palmer, Stephen Moore, Ben Alexander
Reserves: Siliva Silia, Scott Sio, Leon Power, Colby Faingaa, Ian Prior, Pat McCabe, Robbie Coleman.

Crusaders: Tom Taylor, Tom Marshall, Robbie Fruean, Ryan Crotty, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis, Luke Whitelock, Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett
Reserves: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Dominic Bird, Jordan Taufua, Willi Heinz, Adam Whitelock, Israel Dagg.


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