The Crusaders: A beacon of hope to all

Kia Kaha Roar Guru

By Kia Kaha, Kia Kaha is a Roar Guru

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    In 1957, the physicist Hugh Everett came up with a theory of multiple realities that took in quantum mechanics. It suggested all possible alternate histories and futures are real within their own worlds.

    From a rugby standpoint, it’s compelling to think of a large – possibly infinite – number of rugby universes where every possible outcome of every event defines or exists in its own history or world.

    When I think back to the start of the Crusaders’ campaign, it’s very easy to map out in my mind an alternate world where the Crusaders are languishing near the bottom of the New Zealand conference.

    To say the Crusaders got off to a fairly shaky start is like saying Beauden Barrett’s playing quite well this year.

    The Crusaders started well enough against the Brumbies at home building up a half-time lead of 12-3 but ran out unconvincing winners at 17–13.

    Things looked perilously beyond their reach against the Highlanders and the Reds. The Crusaders went to the sheds well behind on the scoreboard: 17–6 and 20–7 respectively.

    They somehow managed to claw their way back into those two games using their traditional core strength. If you have that much firepower at your disposal in the forwards, you’d be foolish not to use it.

    Crusaders Israel Dagg runs after the ball

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    And so they did. Waisake Naholo was cutting to them shreds so they kept it in tight and used their set-piece dominance to get themselves back into the game. Lo and behold, the Highlanders started using up more energy defending and the gaps started appearing to steal it at the end in the right-hand corner.

    With the Reds, it proved a similar story. Samu Kerevi punished them early on and though they scored a couple of good tries out wide, it was the forwards that wore them down and the defence in close got the winning penalty.

    At this stage, there was the impression that the Crusaders were one-dimensional and only saved themselves with their pack. That didn’t tell the whole picture but, nonetheless, it was a fair assessment.

    It was a familiar tale with the Blues at home. Augustine Pulu and George Moala punished the Crusaders early on. But the pack got them back into the game with pick-and-goes, rolling mauls and backs attacking the fringes after multiple phases and the Crusaders had well and truly replaced Elvis as the comeback kings.

    Here’s where the Crusaders can be seen as beacons of hope. The margins between winning and losing are very small at this level. If you look at the Blues and Highlanders – albeit with much tougher fixtures – it’s not difficult to imagine an alternate reality where they sat at the top of the table and the Crusaders sat at the bottom of the table.

    israel-dagg-crusaders-super-rugby-union-2017

    (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

    One simply cannot overstate the psychological benefits of winning. In a way, it could be argued the shaky manner of the victories added to that psychological boost. Like the Highlanders last week in Bloemfontein, imagine the Crusaders leaving the field after those four games thinking ‘how on earth did we win that?’

    Equally, think of the devastating psychological impact of losing those types of games. When your confidence gets shaken, it’s much like the devastating possibility of being culled from the Super competition: nagging doubts begin to cloud your judgement.

    Similarly, imagine the Waratahs, who have made a habit this year of losing the game in the first half and putting on a much more convincing display in the second half. No matter how much Michael Hooper dressed up the defeat in winning trousers, it still was a horrendous looking top that made for a catastrophic ensemble.

    The Crusaders’ comeback wins started to have a flow-on effect in the team’s overall performances. The Force at home was just the tonic for a side desperate to achieve solidity in the opening exchanges.

    Since then, the only game the Crusaders have been down at half time was the following one against the Waratahs away. This was before the thorns started to well and truly overrun the roses.

    Of course, you could well argue that the Crusaders haven’t yet faced really stern opposition or found them in a rich vein of form. But historically, despite being notorious slow starters, the Crusaders have been amazingly consistent in reaching the finals.

    What is undeniable at this stage of the competition, however, is that the Crusaders are looking most convincing across the park. Notable absences such as Kieran Read, Israel Dagg or more recently Sam Whitleock haven’t disrupted the side.

    This year has seen the rise of the rookies. Mitchell Hunt had to fill in for Richie Mo’unga and Whetu Douglas for Kieran Read. David Havii replaced Israel Dagg at fullback and George Bridge came in for Seta Tamanivalu. You could make a case for all of those players to keep out the incumbents simply because they are playing so well.

    The crux of the matter is that a winning environment brings out good footy. Former halfback Andy Ellis recently commented Razor Robertson has done a good job of bringing in young charges he’s been involved with and evolving the team’s attack while using their traditional forward platform.

    This is undoubtedly true and recent games have seen the backs excel as much as the forwards. But I would suggest all that adventurous play would have been out the window if the Crusaders had dropped a few games early on.

    Andy Ellis hit the nail on the head when he said when you go out on the field thinking you can beat anyone that belief transfers to how you play the game.

    This is what Michael Cheka alluded to admitting that the Australian teams were down on their luck but it’s easy enough to turn that around. String a few victories together and suddenly you start to believe.

    Michael Cheika, Wallabies head coach stares in bemusement

    (AAP Image/ David Rowland)

    Look at the effect the Rugby Championship win in 2015 had on Australia’s World Cup performance. The Group of Death turned out to be the New Lease of Life after the disappointing autumn tour in 2014 but it was built upon that impressive run of victories before the World Cup.

    The Brumbies are a clear case in point this year. We were told that they had ‘turned a page’ on attacking rugby in their thrilling display against the Reds at home. The book apparently ended there as although Speight bagged a double, the Brumbies couldn’t open up a spirited Rebels side the following week.

    Similarly, when you analyse the performances of the South African sides, ostensibly it’s difficult to pick out any positives. But look at how the Kings responded when they picked up a win against the Waratahs away. They put in a great second-half performance against the Reds and then blew the Rebels away, who probably fancied their chances after the win against the Brumbies and the draw against the Sharks.

    Winning is by no means a guarantor of success but if it becomes a habit, it’s difficult to shake. The problem is how can you turn around your fortunes when losing can just as easily become a habit?

    The key is to identify where your strengths are at and to play to them. Conversely, it’s important to identify your opponent’s strengths and play to their weaknesses.

    I have been impressed with the offloading game of the South African sides this year. They have endured some inglorious defeats but some of their tries have been absolute gems to watch with their continuity.

    Yet I have been amazed at how weak the fringe defence of South African sides have been. Even taking into account multiple phases on defence, some of the tries that have been almost walked in around the fringes have been dire to watch. The traditional compact, rush defences have been well and truly opened up.

    I’m not just talking about the aerial brilliance of Beauden Barrett’s cross-field kicks. The line defence near the goal has been far too passive and New Zealand sides like the Crusaders have picked up on that and have been merciless in exploiting those gaps.

    Beauden Barrett All Blacks New Zealand Rugby Union Test Championship 2016

    (AAP Image/SNPA, Ross Setford)

    Many point to a lack of skills, a gulf in fitness, a lack of rugby awareness. I don’t subscribe to that theory. I’ve seen enough this year, albeit it in glimpses for some sides, that all are capable of playing the game at pace and are able to achieve continuity through deft offloads or well-taken kicks.

    I would argue that the whitewash of New Zealand sides against Australian sides this year is more a mental block for the Australian sides than a gulf in class. When things don’t go your way, it’s easy to point out what’s going so right for your opponents.

    But somewhere out there, an alternate reality exists where things are going right for your side and your opponents like the Crusaders are getting their hides tanned.

    Sometimes you don’t realise just how lucky you are. Conversely, sometimes you don’t realise just how lucky you could be. Never give up hope. The next game is your chance to break into a more inviting alternate reality.

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    The Crowd Says (29)

    • Roar Rookie

      May 10th 2017 @ 12:15pm
      System of a Downey Jr said | May 10th 2017 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

      The Crusaders have been awesome this year. Their forwards are always the platform but really you only need to look at their backline when they had Richie Mo’unga, Taminavalu and Dagg all out with injury. Against the Tahs they didn’t have a single All Black past or present in their backline (and not even their usual starting 10) and they still won. Add to that the AB captain has been out for them nearly all season and then last week their own captain is out for suspension and they pound out a 60 point win on the road. (Admittedly against an awful Bulls team).

      I think the Saders actually have quite a lot of flair this season but they don’t have many ABs – and certainly not many of the ‘flair’ ones like A and B Smith, Barrett & Savea Clans or the pyrotechnics of the star studded Chiefs backline. It’s amazing to think that if they keep this up they’ll be top of their fiercely competetive Super Rugby conference and not a single back will be represented in the national side against the Lions series (barring possibly Dagg who has hardly played this year)

      But the Saders work ethic should be aspired to by any Super Rugby team.

      • Roar Pro

        May 10th 2017 @ 1:14pm
        PapanuiPirate said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

        Why does everyone forget about Ryan Crotty?

        • May 10th 2017 @ 2:17pm
          Ryan said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:17pm | ! Report

          Not me champ – in fact he and Feks should be the starting AB midfield v pussycats (lions).

          • Roar Rookie

            May 10th 2017 @ 2:30pm
            System of a Downey Jr said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

            Hmmm…a man name Ryan talking up Crotty…suspect.

            In all seriousness – he is definitely a starter for the ABs.

          • Roar Pro

            May 10th 2017 @ 4:05pm
            PapanuiPirate said | May 10th 2017 @ 4:05pm | ! Report

            Not sure about Feks. He’s run too hot and cold for too long for my liking. If SBW can sharpen up I’m expecting him and Crotty. Also ALB hasn’t been playing badly and was the player to impress me most last year.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 4:32pm
            CUW said | May 10th 2017 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

            Crotty is the best defensive center in NZ , atm.

            so what he needs is a big attacking partner

            SBW is still off form , so i would think of either George Moala or Sea Tamanivalu from already capped .

            else Ngani Laumape or Vince Aso ; even Jack Goodhue wont be bad. these are the form centers

            ALB and Fekitoa are not in form . but they will get selected anyway , becoz they have prior experience in the test camp.

        • Roar Rookie

          May 10th 2017 @ 2:28pm
          System of a Downey Jr said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:28pm | ! Report

          Oh man! You are dead right. Apologies. Probably because I’m guilty of thinking that he’s not one of those ‘flashy players’. But he is a definite AB starter for the Lions. I bet you Hansen will pick him at 12 for the first test.

          • Roar Pro

            May 10th 2017 @ 2:41pm
            PapanuiPirate said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:41pm | ! Report

            It’s not just you mate, all over the place people say the Crusaders have a no name backline. He is not just consistent, he runs amazing lines and makes big plays. I just don’t understand why he seems so forgettable!

      • Roar Guru

        May 10th 2017 @ 1:17pm
        Machpants said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        I literally just caught the last saders game, I’m at home after having all four wisdom teeth out (a great way to spend a thousand dollars….) And I mentioned to a buddy how the saders backline, with only one part time AB, was so cohesive. They worked hard for each other. Saders pack had been great for years, but once again (see Landers title season) a bunch of so called no names is stepping up, mostly due to team spirit imo

        • May 10th 2017 @ 2:53pm
          CUW said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          they are not no names ;

          the backline has Crotty Tamanivalu and Dagg ( now injured) – all NZ caps.

          then it has jack Goodhue 2015 NZ under 20 captain

          it also has on and off Jone macilai – a fijian 7s player and former auzzy Digby ioane.

          Drummond was under 20 in 2014

          hall came from Blues – he has experience.

          Enari is now playign with NZ u20 team as scrum half.

          Mounga was NZ under 20 fly half in 2014

          Marty McKenzie (bro of Damian) is a Maori all black (if im not mistaken)

          Hunt is NZ under 20 full back and fly half in 2015

          Sean Wainui was nz u20 center in 2015

          Tim bateman is an oldie with plenty of itm and super rugger experience

          Bridge , Havili and Matalele i cannot recall.

          the line is a blend of youth and experience. only-thing it lacks the STAR POWER of Nemani nandolo and Izzy Dagg ( and of course a certain Dan carter)

          this is understandable , as razor was the under 20 coach for a few years – so he knows these guys well.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 4:16pm
            Old Bugger said | May 10th 2017 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

            Yes and they’d just love everyone, to keep thinking, they’re no names…..except, 3 blokes won’t be….guess who??

      • May 10th 2017 @ 3:02pm
        CUW said | May 10th 2017 @ 3:02pm | ! Report

        they have always had the flair , but last couple of seasons they depended more on Nandolo and his bashing up the middle .

        i think the most improved this season is Tamanivalu on wing – and im sure he will be in the NZ team along with Savea and Naholo.

        Onething the writer shud have mentioned is the relatively fewer injuries the crusaders have had – thus leading to the team being more or less stable . the number of players used in the last few matches has been like 25-26 – thus cohesion is building.

        however their greatest loss this season is WHETU DOUGLAS – without Read they just dont have another 8. in fact Scot robertson has been trying to get Douglas at least to play the next 2 games , before he goes off to Europe. wonder how it has panned oout/

        • May 10th 2017 @ 4:57pm
          Ralph said | May 10th 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          It did not pan out, Whetu got some release from his contract but then had some family issues and could not play in any event.

    • May 10th 2017 @ 12:41pm
      Winston said | May 10th 2017 @ 12:41pm | ! Report

      The next 2 games will see where they are at. There is daylight between the Canes, Cheifs and Saders and the other teams

      • Roar Guru

        May 10th 2017 @ 12:48pm
        Fionn said | May 10th 2017 @ 12:48pm | ! Report

        I think the Lions vs Chiefs would be a close game at a neutral venue.

        I wouldn’t feel at all confident tipping any team over the Lions in Joburg, and I think I would tip the Lions over the Chiefs there.

        • May 10th 2017 @ 2:57pm
          CUW said | May 10th 2017 @ 2:57pm | ! Report

          venue does not matter – what u need is a neutral ref

          i would recommend the Japanese ref. he is the best this season – despite reffing like only 3 matches.

          Lions at home with a safer ref – even Trump cant win !!!

      • Roar Guru

        May 10th 2017 @ 1:14pm
        Machpants said | May 10th 2017 @ 1:14pm | ! Report

        Yeah lions would easily beat the chiefs, as it stands. They’ve been pretty dire up until their most recent half of rugby over the last month or so. I think the lions will win super rugby this year, cos the saders will get tipped up by one or another nz team, Lions will take to billing and they’ll be very very hard to crack at home. Hopefully the canes prove me wrong 🙂

        • May 10th 2017 @ 4:57pm
          BBA said | May 10th 2017 @ 4:57pm | ! Report

          I’m no Chiefs fan, but I will say they find a way to win. They can play better than what they are playing now so who knows. I think the Lions will be the most vulnerable in the first playoff game at home. If they get past that one they will go far, however out of all the teams Chiefs is not the team I would be wanting to play first in the playoffs.

          • May 10th 2017 @ 5:09pm
            taylorman said | May 10th 2017 @ 5:09pm | ! Report

            Crusaders or Canes then perhaps?

            • May 11th 2017 @ 8:24am
              BBA said | May 11th 2017 @ 8:24am | ! Report

              I would prefer to play the Sharks or Highlanders / Blues.

              If I was the Lions I would feel more comfortable against the Crusaders than the Canes or the Chiefs, just because you will know what they will bring. That’s not to say they are necessarily weaker just I would prefer to play the known style who I beat at home last year rather than the less predictable styles of the Chiefs or Canes.

              I would not want to play the Crusaders at home, if they are more rested.

        • May 10th 2017 @ 8:21pm
          Pinetree said | May 10th 2017 @ 8:21pm | ! Report

          Yeah agree that the Lions will most likely top the table. Sharks will most likely slip in 8th position which would make a Lions/Sharks quarter final, then almost certainly NZ teams in the Semi-final and final (probably the Canes and Saders).

      • May 11th 2017 @ 10:16am
        Targa said | May 11th 2017 @ 10:16am | ! Report

        Really? As a Highlanders fan I think we are as good as those three. We lost to the Chiefs for the 1st time in about 3 years at the start of the season, blew an enormous lead against the Crusaders and played our B team against the Canes after having a huge injury toll.

    • Roar Guru

      May 10th 2017 @ 5:36pm
      Machooka said | May 10th 2017 @ 5:36pm | ! Report

      Thanks for that Kia… an excellent well written piece. And one that I’m in total agreement with.

      Perspective is one of many looks and angles! 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 7:14am
        Kia Kaha said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:14am | ! Report

        Cheers Chook.
        Just got back from a 2-1 win against Real Madrid, which wasn’t enough to get Atleti to the final. Smeg.

    • Roar Guru

      May 11th 2017 @ 2:20am
      Harry Jones said | May 11th 2017 @ 2:20am | ! Report

      So true
      So well said
      So need you to write more

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 7:14am
        Kia Kaha said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:14am | ! Report

        Ditto my friend. 🙂

    • Roar Guru

      May 11th 2017 @ 7:01am
      Diggercane said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:01am | ! Report

      Really enjoyable thanks Kia. Hope you and the young family are going well mate.

      • Roar Guru

        May 11th 2017 @ 7:16am
        Kia Kaha said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:16am | ! Report

        Cheers D.C.! Big game this weekend! I am pumped more than a supermarket chicken!

        • Roar Guru

          May 11th 2017 @ 9:02am
          Machooka said | May 11th 2017 @ 9:02am | ! Report

          Settle, settle… I don’t do performance enhancing shyte anymore 😉

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