Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

Rugby: Crusaders preparing for new revolution

New Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson. Photo / File
New Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson. Photo / File

There's a bit of a rugby ruckus bubbling away in Crusaderville.

Longtime coach Todd Blackadder was always packing his bags after multiple seasons and no cigar while his deputy Tabai Matson is joining his old boss as a tandem team at Bath.

Matson sniffed around a Blues role with John Kirwan before he hightailed it back to the safety of red and black land and, we were told, the assurance of a turn on the tiller when Blackadder moved on.

That pledge equalled the Crusaders' title success since Blackadder took over from the 2009 season.

The backroom boys went to work, cogs started to churn in different directions and Scott Robertson was annointed after several seasons as head coach of Canterbury and two years coaching the NZ under 20 side to win the World Championships then failing to make the playoffs this year.

Something had to change at the Crusaders. They were steaming along strongly until the June internationals and then lost three of their next four games.

For most of the time the pack looked okay but the backs lacked traction. When Nemani Nadolo did not play there was as much bite as 80-year-old without dentures.

Most of the snap came from new five eighths Richie Mo'unga who showed what an all-round talent he is and how valuable he is to the region with his general play and goalkicking. When he gets greater help around him he'll be challenging Beauden Barrett, Aaron Cruden and Lima Sopoaga for their reputations.

Ryan Crotty was strong but had to do too much at either second five or centre while Israel Dagg started late when his stutterstep became a metaphor for his work against better defences.

Senior halfback Andy Ellis was his usual demonstrative self but his powers have ebbed a touch.

Slim pickings then from the backs, perhaps half the firepower of other sides.

Robertson has begun his repair assessment. He signed ageing former Wallaby wing Digby Ioane who is, according to the new coach, in great shape and ready for several more years. The Blues cast off halfback Bryn Hall and he is now on the books to back up Mitchell Drummond.

Still no ripples huh. Midfield needs some help, no it needs plenty of assistance. David Havili is a young player of promise but his production has been compromised because he has been shuttled around multiple positions this year while Robbie Fruean was again, sadly, a no show.

So far no noise about Robertson's assistants for 2017 either. Matson gave it to the thumbs down and Dave Hewitt has not made a sound.

Several times former All Black fullback Leon MacDonald was mentioned as a potential Crusaders assistant but then decided to stick with his work at Tasman. He did work with Robertson in 2015 with the national under 20s but has opted out since.

The revolution has started at the Crusaders but the whiff of discontent is also clinging heavily to the edges.

- NZ Herald

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