Eye on the Crusaders

By Brian Ashby

Matt Todd (C) of the Crusaders makes a break during the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.
Matt Todd (C) of the Crusaders makes a break during the round two Super Rugby match between the Crusaders and the Chiefs. Photo / Getty Images.

There are two things you can be sure of in life: a lame album from Cliff Richard at Christmas, and a lame start to the Super Rugby season from the Crusaders.

"Lame" is a rather harsh word, but then given coach Blackadder's demeanour after Friday's loss, it's possibly a word they are using themselves.

The approach to pre-season had changed with a more trial like approach. Blackadder and his coaching staff were amped. "We've been thinking about this game since the day after last year's semifinal loss".

To be fair, a narrow first-up loss to the two-time defending champions isn't all bad. But on the other hand, the new AMI Stadium has been a real fortress for the Crusaders. Heading into their third season at the new venue, Blackadder's men had only ever lost there once before. Friday night has clearly and not surprisingly upset them.

Stronger set-piece play and a wealth of possession should have ensured a better result. A zero per cent goal kicking rate from Tyler Bleyendaal didn't help, but neither did their handling, decision-making, nor their accuracy and timing.

Of course the Alcatraz-like defence from Rennie's regiment was outstanding and, somewhat ironically, it saw them out-Crusader the home team with an old style Crusader-like win. That must be particularly galling for the original old-style Crusaders captain Todd Blackadder.

But pushing the alarm bells now would be folly. Super Rugby is never won in February-March and the Crusaders have been a dead-set safe bet for the semis since 2001. Kieran Read's return this week and there are a wealth of options at ten. Johnny McNicoll had a night he'd probably prefer to forget and on the other wing, Nafi Tuitavake will be better for the character-building experience.

In the right here- right now, those with a just add water and stir view of life will no doubt be writing off the red and blacks. That would be foolish. If there is one skill in the Crusaders management team, it's their ability to strategically plan a campaign from go to woe. As the song by The Dream goes: "Things Can Only Get Better."

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