Super Rugby: Crusaders one win short of history making 17th on the bounce

2019-02-23 06:23:18

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson stood in the bowel of Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium on March 17 last year and ran his hand through his blonde locks.

He remained cool, calm and collected, despite having just watched his team lose to the Highlanders by eight points, their second loss on the bounce after the Hurricanes downed them the previous week.

At 2-2, they were in unfamiliar territory under then second-year coach Robertson, who only lost a single match during the 2017 title winning campaign.

The man known as "Razor" didn't blame the loss on TMO Glenn Newman's contentious decision to rub out a Jordan Taufua try. Instead, he remained upbeat and set about establishing a run, knowing full well brighter days loomed.

He was right. And the return of his eight injured All Blacks made sure of it.

The back-to-back champions have not lost another match since, and will make history if they knock over the Hurricanes at Christchurch Stadium on Saturday night.

It would mark their 17th straight win in Super Rugby, and see them go past the Crusaders of 2005-2006, who rattled off 16 straight with the likes of Richie McCaw, Dan Carter, Rico Gear and Leon MacDonald on their roster.

"It hasn't been a focal point at all, but it's lovely to have an opportunity to do that," Crusaders assistant coach Brad Mooar said this week.

"But what's really important is acknowledging the hard work that's gone in to put a run together, but you only keep a run if you focus on the next game, and that's really important for us, to put a performance together that we've put together and planned for, and now need to execute."

Including last year's semifinal scalp against the Hurricanes, a couple of the Crusaders' 16 straight wins were against the men from the capital.

After scorching temperatures and very little rainfall in the Garden City the past couple of months, the return of Super Rugby to Christchurch comes with forecast rain and a significant temperature drop.

The Crusaders haven't lost a Super match at home in almost three years, and you can bet the red and blacks' forwards won't be downcast if their team bus rolls up to the ground and is greeted by precipitation in the air.

They're masters of playing in greasy conditions, and Crusaders prop Joe Moody has already made it clear they will back themselves to dismantle a Hurricanes pack missing powerful loose forwards Ardie Savea and Vaea Fifita.

That said, they'll need to improve their exit plays, an area Mooar noted the Crusaders struggled in against the Blues last weekend.

"It was pretty easy to see. When we attempted 220 tackles and [the Blues] attempted 80 that we didn't get something right. For us, that was mostly dealing with kickoffs and how we're going to play out of that and not give a side an opportunity to hold the ball.

"If I was playing us, I'd want to hold the ball, and we've got to make sure we put teams under pressure. So we're reversing that stat. We want to make teams make 220 tackles and we'll attempt 80 and see how we go."

AT A GLANCE Crusaders v Hurricanes

Christchurch Stadium, Saturday, 7.35pm

Referee: Ben O'Keeffe

TAB odds: Crusaders $1.27 Hurricanes $3.80 Crusaders: David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Jack Goodhue, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd (captain), Jordan Taufua, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Harry Allan, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Braydon Ennor.

Hurricanes: Jordie Barrett, Wes Goosen, Matt Proctor, Vince Aso, Ben Lam, Fletcher Smith, Finlay Christie, Gareth Evans, Du'Plessis Kirifi, Reed Prinsep, Liam Mitchell, James Blackwell, Jeff Toomaga-Allen, Dane Coles (captain), Chris Eves. Reserves: Ricky Riccitelli, Xavier Numia, Ben May, Isaia Walker-Leawere, Sam Henwood, TJ Perenara, Jackson Garden-Bachop, Ngani Laumape.

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