Sigmund Freud argues in his 1919 essay The Uncanny that “something is uncanny when it violates the safety of home as space. A rival produces an uncanny effect in us for two reasons: they are a double who reveals uncomfortable truths about ourselves and they threaten our sense of connection to our home.”
The Auckland Blues host the Canterbury Crusaders this coming Sunday in what should be the blockbuster rugby fixture of this coming weekend.
Blue versus Red, big city versus small city, metropolitan versus rural and north versus south, perennial opposites and yet so terrifically similar in dominating and striving for silverware.
The Crusaders are seeking to continue their championship dynasty run and add a fifth title in a row at the conclusion of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021.
In the land of the red and blacks, titles are now considered a mere formality, the appetite and demand for more shows no signs of abating, especially under the all-encompassing gaze of head coach Scott Robertson.
George Bridge of the Crusaders (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)
Detractors and critics would argue that Robertson simply needs to select the team after being appointed head coach as ‘anybody’ with the Crusaders player roster would be able to get a tune out of them.
This is a false narrative. While the foundations have been laid by previous Crusader teams in the past, it is their duty and obligation of the head coach of the club to keep the trophy cabinet full for the foreseeable future.
It’s far more complicated than just selecting the team and watching or expecting them to roll through their opponents as previous coach Todd Blackadder will attest to.
He was blessed with a far superior roster of players (Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Kieran Read to name a few) during his tenure but could only at best manage a losing final in his last season, which was the closest he got to a title.
The onus is on the coach’s ability on how he is able to get his message to his players and most importantly how they in turn respond to that message in their performances.
The Crusaders have had an outright monopoly of the past few seasons, no other team in New Zealand has presented enough of a consistent challenge to their unprecedented reign.
That was until “one of their own” made the move up north to their oldest and most bitter foe – the Auckland Blues. Leon McDonald was part and parcel of the first bricks and mortar being laid by the Crusaders during their first dynasty as a fullback in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
McDonald unlike his fellow compatriot and former teammate Robertson was going to a club that had truly lost its identity.
Their meagre foundations of the previous three title-winning teams had almost eroded completely, fans had lost their connection to the team, their player roster was there to an extent but no coach was able to turn around their ailing fortunes or get any belief, unity, and conviction out of them as a rugby team.
As much as it may have irked Blues supporters at first that McDonald – a former Crusader – had to install the very virtues or pillars that have made the Crusaders such a dominant and at times unstoppable force in domestic Southern Hemisphere rugby, the fans are certainly reaping the rewards.
McDonald has built the Blues over time and has installed a deep-rooted self-belief in his squad of players that they are here to end the reign of the red and blacks.
The Blues have grown consistently as a club and team since McDonald was first appointed in 2019, he has evolved their (at times) fractious game plan, simplifying it with a greater point of focus on the basics which has brought accuracy in implementing his philosophy.
This in turn has brought out the best in his superstars such as Caleb Clark, the Ioane brothers, and Patrick Tuipulotu as team captain.
Tuipulotu above all has elevated his overall game to fulfil the enormous potential he has shown due to McDonald’s faith in him and he is repaying it in leading by example on the field with maturity and an assuredness.
This will be McDonald’s third season in charge and they are forming a very powerful identity as a collective, an ingredient that has been missing for far too long in Blues country.
Otere Black. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
For Blues fans to see their bitter rivals perennially walk away with the title after title over the years has hurt all the more because they use to be the club everyone wanted to be like.
It was only when the Crusaders began their dynasty that Blues fans would begin to see so many similarities between the two clubs.
The familiarities between winning seasons translating into silverware, which the Blues initially had become used to, now they see it in their rivals.
I have no doubt the longing they crave for those days to come back. In Leon McDonald, they have a former rival now attempting to stop the red and black machine from claiming another title.
They have the forward pack to stand up to the vaunted Crusaders to add to their sparkling backline and their mental strength as a team is arguably the most impressive factor in their turnaround in fortunes.
On Sunday the Blues can take an enormous step and make a statement that Super Rugby Aotearoa silverware is no longer the exclusive right of the Crusaders, make no mistake the Blues will have to earn it because the Crusaders under Robertson are not slowing down any time soon but the Blues are catching up and not letting up.