June 30, 2011 Leave a comment
WHY THE CRUSADERS WILL PREVAIL
by MIKE GREENAWAY
Ordinarily, you would back a home team to win a semi-final against visitors that have done the notorious long-haul. But for the team from Canterbury in southern New Zealand, these are no ordinary times and there has been something just about mythical about their Crusade this year ever since the February calamity that struck their beautiful garden city.
In fact, stick chainmail over those bearded weirdies in their front row, paint a red cross on their chests and they could be transported 1000 years back to the Christian attempt to liberate the Holy Land. Actually, old Richard the Lionheart (not to be confused with Richard McCaw) might have done a lot better had he had Ben and Owen Franks in his ranks – the way they scrum they would have been very useful manning the battering rams on Jerusalem’s walls. The same goes for the equally hirsute Whitelocks, George and Sam, who are the second set of brothers in the pack. They do keep it in the family down on the great big farm that is the South Island.
Chuck in mobile railway sleepers in Brad Thorne, Kieran Read and Corey Flynn and you get a bulldozer that has no reverse gear. At various stages of every game they have played, that pack has destroyed the opposition in the set scrums, and off the back of the advancing phalanx, Dan Carter and Sonny Bill Williams invariably have ripped apart defences. Those guys are too good to be given a running start, and that is what their scrum often gives them.
The thing with this Crusaders team is that this is the third year that the core has been together after a couple of years of rebuilding, so they were always due to mature in 2011, but to the extent of making a mockery of the notion of home ground advantage?!
It is extraordinary that they are in the semis having played not one game at their home stadium. It has been calculated that they have travelled 94 000kms on an epic Crusade that has now brought them to Cape Town, and if they win they will play a final in Brisbane, taking them well over the 100 000km travel mark for their campaign.
Further, it has been largely forgotten that they lost their very first match of the season – the Blues beat them 24-22 in Auckland on February 19. The next week tragedy struck their home city and their second match – against the Hurricanes – was called off and the teams were awarded two points each. That amounted to two log points from a possible 10 from the first two rounds, plus the startling news that their AMI Stadium was structurally damaged and could not be used this year.
No other team in world rugby could have galvanised themselves at that disheartening revelation like the Crusaders have. Not one game in your home town over 19 rounds of the toughest competition in the world … Yet they have maintained focus and their impeccably high standards while living out of suitcases for four months, abandoning only their razors!
The Stormers are an excellent team, South Africa’s best by some margin, but the Crusaders are damn good at the best of times and when they are on a genuine Crusade – undoubtedly to provide solace to the traumatised citizens of Christchurch – they are outright special.
The Stormers will probably lose not because they are necessarily an inferior team but because the Crusaders are a virtual All Black team that this season is powered by a spirit that is bigger than rugby.