The media analysis of the Reds’ brilliant victory over the Crusaders has missed the most salient aspect of the result. The victory was based on the Reds coaching staff out-coaching the Crusaders staff.
In a question and answer session on The Roar on Friday afternoon I pointed to the fact that the Reds had defeated the Crusaders the last four times they had played.
They had the type of game, with good, hard-tackling forwards and small, very fast and skilful backs, that the tough, unrelenting Crusaders have found hard to defeat.
And so it proved on Saturday night. When the Crusaders were dominant in the first half, the Reds hustled and bustled and hit hard in defence, and came off their defensive lines very quickly (and occasionally, without being penalised), to such effect that the Crusaders made uncharacteristic mistakes.
Pressure creates these types of mistakes. It was this combination of defensive pressures with every player putting their bodies on the line.
Radike Samo’s effort to somehow get under Brad Thorn when he was planting the ball across the try line early in the second half was probably the turning point in the match.
A try and conversion would have taken the Crusaders into a healthy lead. This lead, in turn, might have been enough to get some more energy into the tired legs of the Crusaders as their 100,000 km journey to the Brisbane final began to take its toll.
Here is where the coaching staff came to the fore again. They had factored in the likelihood of the Crusaders running out of gas.
After all, both teams had suffered the same empty tank feeling in the round-robin match.
But this time, the Reds had had a week off during the finals and were playing at home. The Crusaders had flown to South Africa and back and had contested all three finals matches.
So the game plan for the Reds was to make the game as frenetic as possible.
Early on in the second half, for instance, the Reds had a penalty on the halfway mark. They immediately took a tap penalty rather than slowing the game down for a shot at goal.
The Crusaders were sucked into this type of game, too.
They lost their structures and at times played the headless chicken type of game that Quade Cooper with his tremendous speed, strength and uncanny passing skills can get away with.
But no other player in the world can hope to emulate Cooper in broken field play.
Then at the crucial time in the second half Liam Gill was brought on for Beau Robinson.
Gill is an even better fetcher than Robinson, although at 19 years he does not have the strength and body toughness to play a starting role over a long season.
The Crusaders could not match the energy and pace around the field that the Reds developed in the last quarter of the game.
And then the master stroke, in terms of coaching and play, was revealed. All season the Crusaders had had trouble with sharp snipes from fast halfbacks from set play and from rucks and mauls.
Will Genia scored a decisive try for the Reds from a darting run from a scrum in the first Reds-Crusaders match. He waited all game for a suitable opportunity to do the same thing again. Then 12 minutes from time he saw his chance.
He took it and raced away to rugby glory.
The coaching staff of the Reds has finished their work for the season. It would be a smart move by Robbie Deans to bring some of them into the Wallaby camp for the Rugby World Cup campaign.
This is not to denigrate the work of Deans himself.
A point that is not acknowledged by his (diminishing?) number of detractors is that he plucked Will Genia from the obscurity of a perennially losing Reds squad and hoisted him into the national side.
The real development in Cooper’s game, too, came when he became a Wallaby and was exposed to Deans’ coaching.
The argument for using some of the Reds coaching staff in the Rugby World Cup effort is that it is a tremendous undertaking to coach a side to win the tournament.
And a national coach in a World Cup year needs much more staff help than in an ordinary year.
Sir Clive Woodward had a lawyer on his staff in 2003 who saved the day when England played a short time in one of their matches with 16 men on the field.
As well as the usual suspects on the coaching staff, Wooodward also employed a visualisation expert who taught the players how to isolate opponents in their field of vision, and reduce the mass of bodies heaving around them to a comprehensible series of patterns they could interpret and play to.
This expert was hired by Jake White, along with the former Wallaby coach Eddie Jones, to help the Springboks win the 2003 Rugby World Cup, four years after Woodward’s win.
There will now be a great debate about how valuable the Reds’ Super Rugby win will be for the Wallabies chances of winning the World Cup.
In all the years that New Zealand teams won the Super Rugby tournament, they could not convert these wins into a World Cup title.
But the Bulls’ Super Rugby title victory in 2007 was the foundation for the Springboks winning the Rugby World Cup 2007.
More important than the history, I think, is the fact that the Reds’ style right now seems to have the measure on the Crusaders’ efforts to counter it.
The All Blacks play like the Crusaders and the Wallabies try to play like the Reds. Does this mean anything?
It makes for a tantalising month and more of discussions.
There is the consideration, too, that if the Rugby World Cup 2011 seedings work out, the Wallabies should play England in the semi-finals. England has had the wood on Australia in recent years.
Let the discussion and debate begin …
One final point about the 2011 Super Rugby final. This must be the last time it is refereed by a referee from one of the conferences competing in the final.
It was painful to see the New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence going out of his way not to seem biased in front of a rabid Reds crowd and an even more rabid ground announcer.
Some of Corey Flynn’s lineout throws were ruled not straight when their deviation from the middle of the lineout appeared to be more imaginary than actual. And it was the inability of the Crusaders lineout to win its own ball that prevented the side from maintaining the pressure it needed to place on the Reds forwards.
In summary, then: A victory for the ages for the Reds. They played modern rugby at its combative best.
The victory could be gold for the Wallabies.
And, as a last thought, a probable wake-up call for the All Black coaches to devise ways of beating this brilliant and winning way of playing modern rugby.