Super Rugby: Crusaders coach Scott Robertson reinforces case for All Blacks job

2019-05-30 19:16:55

OPINION: Scott Robertson doesn't have to parrot why he should be considered a genuine contender to replace departing All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

Here's why. The Crusaders coach's record in Super Rugby, and ability to wring the best out of players in trying circumstances, is a not-so-subtle reminder to the NZ Rugby board of what he can do with elite players. Robertson almost makes coaching look easy. It's not. There's multiple moving parts to the job, and if one of them drops out of alignment it can lead to sleepless nights, mouth ulcers and a search for the shoulder of a sympathetic reporter to cry on.

If the Crusaders skittle the Chiefs in Suva on Saturday night they can't be overtaken on the Super Rugby log, and as top qualifier will have the right to remain in Christchurch throughout the playoffs.

Given the Crusaders haven't lost a Super Rugby fixture at Christchurch Stadium since July 16 2016 you wouldn't expect the turf accountants to dither when offering odds on an overall winner.

Just three rounds remain before the quarterfinals on June 22-23. Chances are the Crusaders, chasing a title three-peat, will be the No 1 qualifier. Daylight separates the chasers.

1 What makes Robertson a decent coach? Last week the wheels could have pinged off the Crusaders wagon following allegations of misbehaviour in South Africa.

Despite the players vehemently denying they had acted inappropriately, it wasn't the flashest week in the club's history and things could have turned to mud on the field.

Yet Robertson managed to maintain control, instructing his players to adhere to a kick-heavy strategy to frustrate the Blues into errors during the 19-11 win in Christchurch.

Yet, it was ugly. But the four competition points still look tasty in the logbook.

2 If the Crusaders can claim a title three-peat, it will further enhance Robertson's credentials. No other Super Rugby coach has won three competition crowns in succession.

3 Outside of All Blacks assistant Ian Foster, what other coaches in New Zealand can say they deserve to be on the short list for the All Blacks' top job when Hansen retires after the World Cup? Given NZ Rugby has yet to request applications, this is a hypothetical question.

But on current form it's unlikely the Kiwi rugby public would be too impressed if Aaron Mauger (Highlanders), Colin Cooper (Chiefs) and Leon MacDonald (Blues) were on the short list. John Plumtree has got the Hurricanes going alright, but consistency is an issue.

4 Have we heard any more about who else could have a dig? No, but that's not surprising. Things are always fluid in this industry.

Joe Schmidt has said he won't be available, and Vern Cotter is reported to be locked into a new director of rugby role with his French club Montpellier. Dave Rennie has a deal with Glasgow that takes him through to mid-2020, and Robbie Deans is working in Japan.

Warren Gatland, who will exit his job with Wales after the World Cup, is already reported to be in line to get the British and Irish Lions job in 2021.

5 Has Blues No 8 Akira Ioane done enough to force his way into the Rugby Championship squad? It's been a tough campaign for him. Ioane, the only player who didn't tour last year to be invited to the All Blacks "foundation days", has started all 13 of the Blues games this year, logging 1000 minutes.

He looks bruised and battered. There have been no rest days. He is ranked No 4 in the competition for carries at an average of 10.6 a game.

6 Meanwhile All Blacks midfielder Sonny Bill Williams remains on ice for the Blues and won't appear against the Bulls in Auckland on Friday night. The All Blacks midfielder, who has logged just five appearances (two starts), in Super Rugby could make his comeback against the Reds next weekend.

Despite his paucity of minutes, we are told Williams, providing he's fit, won't be snubbed by the All Blacks selectors ahead of the World Cup.

Loyalty is one thing. At what cost, though? To suggest the brittle Williams could be a liability in the World Cup squad can risk earning the wrath of some cheerleaders in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Give us a break! Kiwis have every right to be nervous.

7 Still no sign of All Blacks lock Brodie Retallick, either. His comeback from torn ligaments in his wrist has been delayed by another two weeks. It's highly likely that if he does get a run for the Chiefs, who have the bye next weekend, it will be in a meaningless fixture against the Rebels in the final round.

Because by then, the Chiefs' title hopes will probably be toast.

8 The same goes for test tighthead prop Owen Franks. Crusaders coach Robertson refused to risk him against the Chiefs, and now hopes to give Franks a run against the Rebels next weekend. Another All Black, hooker Codie Taylor, is sidelined with a cracked finger.

9 Former Wallabies Phil Kearns and Mark Ella have been bleating about the inclusion of the Jaguares in Super Rugby. The duo say the team from Argentina has an unfair advantage because it's stacked with test players. Get over it. The competition is all the better for the Jaguares' inclusion.

10 Can the Hurricanes get one over the Sharks in Durban? Of course. It's familiar territory for coach John Plumtree, who coached the Sharks between 2008 and 2012, so he might have a few unique insights into how the locals will approach this.

It will be Plumtree's first visit as head coach of the Canes since replacing Chris Boyd. He might even find time to tuck into a chow bunny, a local delicacy. Recipe: Take one loaf of white bread, rip out the guts and pour in the curry. Enjoy, Plum.

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