Brian Ashby: Home team must avoid repeat of horror show

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It's a very fine line between hero and zero. No one is more acutely aware of that than Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

There was a time at this stage of the season when the Crusaders were unstoppable. Not any more. Making it to this point has been something of a specialty for the past 13 years.

However, for all the criticism that is directed his way, Blackadder is the first to admit that he has won nothing. In a franchise that has traditionally been spoilt for success, the pressure from fans and presumably the board is mounting.

Turn the clock back 12 months. Semifinal time. There was nothing in it. The Chiefs went on to get title number two. For the Crusaders it was a case another summer/winter of discontent.

Dave Rennie was justifiably talked up as something of a coaching maestro and a potential candidate for president of a possible New Zealand republic.

Blackadder's coaching ability was somewhat unfairly called into question again, and he was accused of just about everything from the Crewe murders to the sinking of the Mikhail Lermontov.

But that's rugby in the post season. It comes down to one or two moments. Those minute details. Sharks coach Jake White is a master of the details. Sticking to the basics, but doing them very well.

And that was the key to their success on their May 17 visit to AMI Stadium. If that was a high point of the year for the Durbanites, losing to a team down to 13 players at one stage was probably the worst night for the Crusaders that I can remember since sitting at Canberra Stadium in the first half of the 2004 final.

Assistant coach Tabai Matson admitted that all the players would be subjected to some video horror shows of that match at some point this week.

There is some good news, though: this time around the Crusaders will have three past and present IRB world players of the year in the run-on 15. Very timely. And then there is Corey Flynn. Saturday night will be game number 150 for him and either his penultimate or final match for the franchise before heading to France. But for a series of serious injuries, he'd probably be close to becoming the first player to rack up 200 games. Ending with a loss would hurt big time.

The Crusaders had two big aims this season: start strong and finish stronger. They changed up their preseason, giving it more of a rugby focus. The net result was an even worse start than usual. The coaching team looked wounded.

The big question now will come a step closer to being answered on Saturday night: have they learned from past failures and can they finish stronger? For rugby fans, it's feeling a bit like Christmas week, but not everyone will get the presents.

Brian Ashby is a NewstalkZB sports reporter and commentator

- NZ Herald

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