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

Patrick McKendry: Crusaders need to ask tough questions

Tabai Matson and Todd Blackadder were left disappointed by how their Crusaders reign ended. Photo / Getty
Tabai Matson and Todd Blackadder were left disappointed by how their Crusaders reign ended. Photo / Getty

As the Crusaders pick over their season, which ended in failure at the first knockout stage despite their standing at the top of the New Zealand conference in June, the powers that be might want to give careful consideration to the way they replaced head coach Todd Blackadder.

After Blackadder announced at the start of the year that the 2016 season would be his last at the Crusaders after eight years in the role, interested parties were invited to apply for the position, including Tabai Matson, Blackadder's assistant since 2013, who was close to signing with the Blues under John Kirwan last year.

Matson was persuaded not move to Auckland by the Crusaders' hierarchy, the strong implication being that his future as Blackadder's predecessor was all but assured should he stay in Christchurch.

Imagine his surprise, therefore, when he was overlooked by the interviewing panel, which included Crusaders chief executive Hamish Riach. Instead, the role went to Canterbury head coach Scott Robertson.

Backs specialist Matson wasn't the only Crusaders coach affected by the decision. Forwards coach Dave Hewett also applied for the top job, but probably would have come to an arrangement with Matson to continue as an assistant had the former midfielder got the role.

Instead, he too, was left with an uncertain future with three round-robin matches remaining, including crucial derby games against the Chiefs and Hurricanes, and the prospect of the playoffs to come.

The Crusaders' review will come to several reasons about why the team failed to kick on following the international break, and the efforts the eight All Blacks in the team, including new skipper Kieran Read, exerted in the three tests against Wales will probably be one conclusion.

Their failure to respond to pressure in their defeats to the Chiefs, Hurricanes, and Lions in last weekend's quarter-final defeat in Johannesburg has been identified by Blackadder as a major reason for their fall. In the past the Crusaders' resilience has been a strength.

But the fall-out from the Matson/Robertson decision must be a factor too. It is understood that several senior players within the Crusaders were upset by the way Matson was treated, and few of them played to their potential in their team's three defeats this month.

True team unity - the sort teams such as the Chiefs and Highlanders show week-in, week-out on the pitch, takes hard work and can go in an instant.

Blackadder made a point of saying his team was more unified than ever this season before the June break, although a winning team is a happy team. Afterwards, romp over the hopeless Rebels aside, there was little sign of it.

The tough questions need to be asked in a franchise which hasn't won a title since 2008. At the very least, maybe the Crusaders should have waited until the season finished to announce Blackadder's successor.

- NZ Herald

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