Justin Marshall 's Opinion

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall: Round-robin defeats haunt Crusaders

34 comments

There’s the challenge for the Crusaders next year — to get that home final.

Kurtley Beale (centre) and the Waratahs celebrate victory in the Super Rugby final at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images
Kurtley Beale (centre) and the Waratahs celebrate victory in the Super Rugby final at ANZ Stadium on Saturday night. Photo / Getty Images

Analysis of the Crusaders' 2014 Super Rugby campaign will no doubt focus on the final five minutes at Homebush on Saturday night, and we'll talk about that soon, but there was a bigger factor behind the agonising loss to the Waratahs.

I don't believe, no matter how well they played, that the Waratahs would have stood a chance against that Crusaders team if they were playing at AMI Stadium in Christchurch. The Waratahs may have nullified some of their home ground advantage by moving the match from their fortress at Allianz, but it was still a home game.

History tells you that apart from the Crusaders in their title-winning heyday, teams don't travel overseas to finals and win.

It just shows you that round-robin losses that might not seem so significant at the time take on extra weight during the playoffs.

This year's Super Rugby competition confirmed for me three truths: you must recruit well to cover those times when you are missing key players; you cannot afford to work your way into the competition, you have to be firing from the first whistle; and you cannot afford off days at home.

Those three things were the difference between the 2014 Waratahs and the Crusaders, and that manifested itself in a one-point win in the final.

The Crusaders had a slow start in the New Zealand Conference and dropped some sloppy games at home, and that cost them a home final. They also lost some handy talent from the region to the Chiefs - the likes of Liam Squire, James Lowe and Robbie Fruean - which is puzzling given the Crusaders' pedigree. I wonder if they're struggling to entice players now because of the resources they have tied up in superstars like Dan Carter, Richie McCaw and Kieran Read. Don't get me wrong, you want those guys, but you also want to be getting a full season out of them.

You don't want to, nor should you, be too critical when you were a few minutes from winning a title in an incredibly tough competition, but there's the challenge for the Crusaders next year - to get that home final. It's bloody tough to travel to Hamilton to play the Chiefs; it's equally as tough to travel to Sydney to play the Waratahs.

And for all that, they were on the cusp of a victory that would have been all the more remarkable because they were played off the park in a first half where their body language and energy levels seemed flat.

Many will point to the intervention of Craig Joubert as the critical moment, but for me every breakdown offers opportunities for referees to find fault and there are times as a player when you have to recognise that and curb your instincts.

There were other points in that game, such as Nemani Nadolo's try, when the Waratahs could argue they were hard done by, so these things balance out.

For me, the critical mistake happened a couple of minutes earlier when the Crusaders inexplicably kicked away possession after Sam Whitelock had pulled off a great lineout steal on Waratahs ball.

If the call was to kick it was the wrong one, but even if it was the right call, it was the wrong sort of kick. It either had to be a kick to regain possession, or a time-killer into the corner. Willi Heinz's kick was neither and it put his side's fate in the Waratahs' hands.

What the Waratahs did in the next couple of minutes was outstanding, stretching the Crusaders from side to side and getting in range to milk a kickable penalty, but they should never have been given the opportunity.

Where Whitelock won possession wasn't a critically dangerous part of the field. The Crusaders could have run through some phases and even if they weren't making ground, the Waratahs would have been under enormous clock pressure and would have had to do one of two things - break the law to try to regain the ball, or flood the breakdown with numbers. Either scenario would have offered the Crusaders opportunities. Instead they gave the Tahs, who showed in the first half how easily they were able to expose the visitors' defence, another chance to do so.

This was a tremendous game, a fitting end to the season, and the way it was played meant it was always going to be a demoralising end for one team. I'm looking forward to seeing how the Crusaders bounce back, and that has to start in the off season.

- NZ Herald

Justin Marshall

Justin Marshall is a former All Blacks halfback and current columnist for the New Zealand Herald

Justin Marshall played 81 test matches for the All Blacks, including four as captain. The halfback made his debut in 1995 against France and ended his career 10 years later with a series sweep over the British and Irish Lions. He won five Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, playing 105 games for the franchise. He commentates for Sky Television.

Read more by Justin Marshall

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest
Stats provided by

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf02 at 20 Dec 2014 06:47:52 Processing Time: 458ms