Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson is self-isolating at home and the front door of the defending champions' headquarters in suburban Christchurch is closed to all but staff and those who have essential appointments, but behind the scenes it's busier than ever.

The Crusaders, along with New Zealand's four other Super Rugby franchises, NZ Rugby and New Zealand's Players' Association are dedicating every working hour – and then some – on salvaging something from a season suspended and all but cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

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At this point everyone is confident a Kiwi competition will get the go-ahead. It would be played in empty stadiums but will likely attract a sizeable national and international audience and is a much-needed focal point during a crisis that will have huge ramifications on the game and society in general.


The possibility of rugby returning has kept the players and staff at the Crusaders upbeat despite the knowledge that they cannot go for their fourth Super Rugby championship in a row (although they will have claims to it if they win next year). Should the Kiwi competition be canned, however, the mood will plunge below Christchurch's not entirely solid ground.

"The thing about this place is that it's amazing how people re-define opportunity or turn adversity into opportunity," chief executive Colin Mansbridge told the Herald.

Crusaders CEO Colin Mansbridge. Photo / Photosport
Crusaders CEO Colin Mansbridge. Photo / Photosport

"If there was no competition and we got nothing away this year in terms of rugby I think the deflation would be very severe and the sense of purpose and meaning would diminish somewhat, there's no doubt about that.

"If we get this comp up it's a different situation; there's something to strive for. We're taking the view that the competition is important for the social and mental health of New Zealand and therefore we have a moral obligation to get it going if we can in a highly risk-managed environment.

"A bit of netball, a bit of rugby, a few things like that on TV, if we can do that, forget the commercial; everybody's stuffed commercially and the economy is going to be in a recession, but more important is the social responsibility to get out and do the best we can.

"If you think about that, it might not be a Super title that's on the line, but boy, to be striving to win perhaps the only competition available in the world this year - that's pretty exciting and that's the mindset."

And yet, while everyone is working towards a common goal, the decision may be taken out of their hands by a government which recently closed the country's borders in an attempt to contain a virus which is creating huge problems and increasing fatalities in Europe in particular.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is currently in self-isolation. Photo / Photosport
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson is currently in self-isolation. Photo / Photosport

Mansbridge understands this only too well. He, like Robertson, assistant coach Jason Ryan, 23 players and other management staff, is under voluntary self-isolation after travelling home from Brisbane on Sunday following the team's victory over the Sunwolves.


In a bid to mitigate against the possibility of self-isolation, team manager Shane Fletcher did not travel, and neither did assistant coach Mark Jones.

"My sense is we have strong support throughout the community, including… government connections, who seem to realise what we're trying to do," Mansbridge said of a return to the playing field. "We're not getting any pushback. As long as we can manage the risk … I think there's a really good possibility it will get up."

The Crusaders are attempting to keep things as normal as possible. Conference calls have replaced meetings. "It's surprising how quickly people have adapted," he said.

Those players who are self isolating are training at home or on the streets and those allowed in the Rugby Park gym do so in vastly reduced numbers and at different times.

"The overall principle we've picked up from the medical staff is that we should treat it like we've got the virus and don't want to give it to others."

As a former financial sector employee – Mansbridge once had a Queensland-wide executive bank job and returned to Christchurch in time for the 2011 earthquakes (just after the Brisbane floods) – he knows about economic imperatives and crises too. Last year, during his first 12 months in the role, he also had to deal with the terrorism atrocities in the city and subsequent Crusaders' brand issues.


Of the financial reality, he said: "The commercial situation is quite severe for the whole economy firstly," he said. "And it's severe for the club and New Zealand Rugby and provincial unions. Nobody is immune financially and economically from this situation.

"The new comp will do something towards mitigating the financial risk. It's not going to eliminate it."

And of the fallout of what he described as the Crusaders' "branding and identity crisis", he said: "It forced us to connect with people and forced me into connections that I may not otherwise have made. You suddenly end up with a different set of quality relationships."

Asked about his time at the Crusaders, Mansbridge likes to tell a story about a conversation he had with his assistant just after taking over from Hamish Riach.

"Things seemed to be running along very smoothly and efficiently and I turned to my assistant and said 'what does Hamish do all day?' It was in jest, but she reminds me of that every single day."