Rugby: Payback time the spur for Crusaders

By Patrick McKendry

Midfielder Crotty says they must be prepared for anything including one of their players being sent off

There has been an extra onus on Ryan Crotty to carry the ball, something he is enjoying. Photo / Getty Images
There has been an extra onus on Ryan Crotty to carry the ball, something he is enjoying. Photo / Getty Images

For the Crusaders, the pressure of the finals series was embraced shortly after the final whistle of the Hurricanes victory in Christchurch a week ago.

The senior players had their say in the changing rooms, input which has continued during the week ahead of tonight's sudden-death playoff against the Reds, a team with which they have a long history, at AMI Stadium.

Midfielder Ryan Crotty, who has started every match for the Crusaders this season, revealed yesterday that it was the old hands, a group that includes him these days, who have had the most to say this week.

"The senior boys set a good tone for the week straight after the game on Friday. We talked about what we are going to do, the things that have happened in the past, and how we have to make sure we do everything we can to get it right this time," Crotty said.

"The onus is on the guys who have been there before to step up and perform, to make sure we go the whole way."

Rather than being a burden, though, the Crusaders have embraced the pressure, much like the All Blacks did when hosting the 2011 World Cup knowing that they hadn't won it in 24 years.

This is the Crusaders' 12th consecutive appearance in the playoffs but the seven-time champions are acutely aware that they haven't won anything since 2008, the final year of Robbie Deans' reign. Privately, they feel that at their best no team can stay with them, that it's a matter of getting to the mental state shown during the dismantling of the Chiefs in Christchurch a fortnight ago.

To that end, every eventuality had been prepared for, Crotty said, including how they would cope with a sending off by South African referee Jaco Peyper.

"We've got to be prepared for anything," he added. "We know this match could go down to the wire but we've got to embrace that. Sometimes it takes 79 minutes to break down a team."

Crotty has been a consistent performer for the Crusaders this season, something he freely acknowledged. His regular game time has helped, too. Moving out one position to centre following Robbie Fruean's heart surgery, Crotty has a new respect for players in the No13 jersey given the extra space they have to defend.

However, with second-five Tom Taylor combining nicely with Dan Carter in terms of a kicking game, there has been an extra onus on Crotty to carry the ball, something which he is enjoying.

He and Taylor will be up against Ben Tapuai and Jono Lance, but Crotty said he wouldn't be surprised to see an appearance by Wallabies midfielder Anthony Faingaa at some stage, even though he is officially unavailable with a hamstring strain.

"He's travelling with them, so it wouldn't be a shock to see him out there. He's an excellent player."

Now for the history lesson, something all the Crusaders have immersed themselves in this week. They know they have had troubles against the Reds in the past. They haven't played them yet this season but last year battled to subdue them 15-11 in Christchurch. The final defeat of two years ago at Suncorp Stadium hurt a Crusaders team weary of constant travel and knocks from all directions.

Payback is looming and Crotty, who has yet to win a Super rugby title - he made his debut in 2009 - understands the significance of the occasion.

"It could be a real grind, but we've got to look forward to it," he said. "There is definitely an excitement there. We can't wait."

Reds: Ben Lucas, Dom Shipperley, Ben Tapuai, Jono Lance, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Quade Cooper, Will Genia; Jake Schatz, Liam Gill, Ed Quirk, James Horwill (capt), Rob Simmons, James Slipper, Saia Faingaa, Greg Holmes. Res: Albert Anae, Jono Owen, Ed O'Donoghue, Radike Samo, Beau Robinson, Nick Frisby, Luke Morahan.

Crusaders: Israel Dagg, Tom Marshall, Ryan Crotty, Tom Taylor, Zac Guildford, Dan Carter, Andy Ellis; Kieran Read (capt), Matt Todd, George Whitelock, Sam Whitelock, Luke Romano, Owen Franks, Corey Flynn, Wyatt Crockett. Res: Ben Funnell, Joe Moody, Luke Whitelock, Richie McCaw, Willi Heinz, Tyler Bleyendaal, Adam Whitelock.


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