Eight talking points from the Super Rugby final.
I can honestly say I told you so, but I was still wrong
Last week I wrote "I wouldn't mortgage the house, but the Crusaders have to be on shorter odds to win their third Super Rugby title in a row than finding a Kiwibuild home going up in your street." And, of course they did win, 19-3. But what I hadn't dreamed was that the Jaguares, despite the 17 hours of travel, and the 15-hour time difference, would still provide infinitely more resistance than the Lions did in last year's final. In my heart of hearts I thought the Crusaders would romp home on Saturday night. There has been some beautiful rugby this year from the Crusaders, and some startlingly good tries. The final, on the other hand, was gritty and tough from the start, and called for a different approach. Fair play to a side that can get down in the trenches, as the Crusaders did, and win ugly when the occasion demands it.
Razor belongs amongst the giants
A constant delight over the last three years has been the electrifying, infectious, enthusiasm of Crusaders' coach Scott Robertson. He's also clear eyed, with a sense of humour often bubbling near the surface. So when he noted, with a smile, that in the hard won battle that was the final, "the rugby itself was very uneventful", it was at once entirely realistic, and charmingly self-effacing. Competitiveness in top level sport can easily morph into pomposity. You can bet the farm rating up there in the hallowed Crusaders coaching circle of Wayne Smith and Robbie Deans will not change Robertson's unique personality. (In passing he's really the one that rules all. Not only three successive wins as a coach. But also three titles as a player.)
That whirring sound was all departed Canterbury coaches spinning in their graves
The default setting for coaches in Christchurch over the years has been 'bloke'. Staunch, undemonstrative, and so stoic they treated victory and disaster the same. There were some exceptions, like university professor Sir James Stewart, an articulate intellectual, but by and large the template looked to the gruff and demanding. God knows what a lot of them would think of Robertson's exhilarating post-victory dance. But the only cheer as loud as the one that greeted Codie Taylor's try was when the Crusaders formed a circle, and Robertson stepped forward for a one man disco inferno.
They call it emotional intelligence
Farewells can be murder on a team. Winning one for the soon to be departed sounds like a good idea, but in reality can be counter-productive. Considering Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Owen Franks, Jordan Taufua, and Ryan Crotty just ended their careers at the Crusaders, and Sam Whitelock won't be there next year due to a sabbatical clause in his new contract, it would have been easy for the Crusaders to wallow in sentiment. Whitelock says coach Robertson addressed "the elephant in the room" from the first week of the season, so by the time the final was reached it wasn't a distraction.
This was the way to say goodbye
Matt Todd played in 17 test matches. Who can say how many it might have been if Richie McCaw hadn't locked down the No.7 jersey for 15 seasons? In his last game for the Crusaders Todd made 15 tackles, an impressive figure in itself. Even more impressive was the fact that most of those tackles brought the runner to a stop so sudden and juddering, a Mac truck couldn't have made much more impression.
Man of the match
On the night the award was made to the Jaguares' blindside flanker, Pablo Matera, a 56-test Puma, who led the fearless and effective tackle lines that stifled most of the Crusader attacks. Matera's a hell of a player, but what actually won the game was the nerveless goal kicking of Richie Mo'unga. It wasn't a game where Mo'unga was given any space to run, but when you've scored 14 of the 19 winning points without missing a single shot at goal, he felt like a more logical, if less generous minded, choice.
Send a video to Michael Cheika
It wasn't only his impeccable multilingualism that was so impressive about the post match reactions of Jaguares' coach, Gonzalo Quesada. He was open - there were "tears in the dressing room" - he was gracious and he was proud without being arrogant - "sometimes at an event like this a team can come just to watch, but my players made it a contest". As a feat of coaching, taking the Jaguares to a final in his first year was extraordinary. As a man he showed why he's so respected in rugby circles all over the world.
Yes, the fans do deserve better
It's a matter of sadness to me that somehow the people running the Christchurch rebuild considered fans of rugby and rock concerts a lesser breed than those who go to the Town Hall and the art gallery. The ground was packed out on Saturday night, despite the temperature dropping to 4C by the end of the game. The loyalists had to watch in a stadium that is now years beyond its use by date. The anti-new stadium movement in Christchurch is vociferous and well organised, but every survey, including those conducted at the council's request, show the majority of people in the city would like to watch the Crusaders in a little more comfort, and not have to travel to Dunedin to see bands like Fleetwood Mac. New promises about a stadium actually translating to action, rather than vanishing in the spineless political murk of more committees and special reports can't come soon enough.