COMMENT

Scott Robertson, rightly in the frame as the next All Blacks coach, is facing up to one of the most important weeks of his coaching career.

He's had a few already during his previous two years at the Crusaders but just about the only thing he has yet to achieve with the team is a win over the Hurricanes in Wellington.

In 2017, the Crusaders became the first overseas team to win a Super Rugby final in South Africa when they beat the Lions seven days after beating the Chiefs in Christchurch in their semifinal. The Lions had the luxury of sleeping in their own beds all week after accounting for the Hurricanes in their sudden death match.

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Last year, the Crusaders lost two games in a row against the Hurricanes in Wellington and the Highlanders in Dunedin. That was in March. They didn't lose another in sweeping all before them, including the Lions in the final in Christchurch in August, before crashing back to ground in Sydney last weekend.

But for all the pressures associated with those matches; the bouncing back from rare defeats and winning sudden death matches with a mixture of cold-blooded efficiency and an almost care-free panache not normally associated with finals rugby, nothing compares to what Robertson and his side are going through at the moment.

Another defeat to the Hurricanes in Wellington on Saturday would represent the defending champions' worst run under Robertson. (It would also be their third loss in Wellington in three years).

They received only two points from the cancelled match against the Highlanders a day after the acts of terror in Christchurch. And, while that was nobody's fault in a rugby sense, the result of that match, and more to the point reasons for it, were blows that still hurt.

"We lost a bit of rhythm from that [cancelled] game and it's a chance for us to bounce back and see what we're made of," Robertson's assistant Jason Ryan said this week.

Steve Hansen and Scott Robertson. Photo / Photosport
Steve Hansen and Scott Robertson. Photo / Photosport

The psychological pressures connected to the atrocities committed less than five kilometres from their headquarters have presented this team with challenges no other has faced since 2011 when the Crusaders under Todd Blackadder played "home" games all over the world.

In retrospect, their efforts in making the final against the Reds (after beating the Stormers in Cape Town) virtually defy belief. During the regular season, just when it looked like the ground had settled in Christchurch, an ash cloud caused by a volcano grounded all jet planes, so skipper Richie McCaw helped organise a vintage DC3 to fly the team to Wellington for a game against the… Hurricanes.

The adversity the Reds, the champions that year, went through following the devastating floods in Queensland should also be noted.

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So, despite the backdrop to their season, few will dispute they can make it to another final or even make it title number three under Robertson.

But, only seven games in, this is potentially a season-defining match for the Crusaders and a big test for a coach who has consistently shown he has the game plan and charisma to consistently get the best out of his players.

Robertson will coach the All Blacks at some point – either as Steve Hansen's replacement at the end of this year, or as a replacement to Hansen's successor. Whatever the result at the Cake Tin tomorrow, this week will shape Robertson's development hugely.