Super Rugby: Why beating the Blues would be extra satisfying for Scott Robertson

2019-02-15 21:50:43

It might be an extra fist-pump, or it could be a larger than usual grin. Just don't be surprised if there's a little bit of extra emotion from Scott Robertson on Saturday night, should the Crusaders beat the Blues.

After all, when the Crusaders head coach and his assistants take their seats at Eden Park, a former ally with deep Crusaders roots will be plotting their demise in the home side's coaching box.

Who would have thought two years after Leon MacDonald helped the Crusaders win the 2017 Super Rugby title as attack coach, he'd be guiding the red and blacks' nemesis.

Welcome to modern day coaching, where one must be prepared to go anywhere to get an opportunity.

MacDonald quit the team he played for 122 times halfway through his two-year deal for family reasons. He permanently moved to Blenheim and signed on as Tasman's head coach until the end of the 2019 Mitre 10 Cup.

Yet eight months later, he signed as the Blues' attack coach last May, before a coaching twist resulted in him replacing the demoted Tana Umaga as head coach last December.

MacDonald had finally landed the head coaching job it was clear he desired.

"There's been none [banter]," Robertson said when asked if he'd been in touch with his former assistant this week.

"There will be on game day when I see him, we'll catch up then. But no, no texts or any contact just yet. I think we're both preparing our teams at the moment."

MacDonald, having also worked as Robertson's assistant with the New Zealand under-20s, and the Crusaders' head coach have ample history, leaving no doubt their competitive juices will be flowing come 7.35pm Saturday.

In addition to coaching together, the pair played seven seasons together for the Crusaders, winning titles in 1998, '99, 2000, and 2002.

"Look, he's obviously a quality coach," Robertson said. "The great thing about Leon, he could play a lot of different positions. He knows the game well from an attack-defence point of view, he's been in successful cultures and understands what that looks and feel like.

"He wanted to be a head coach, now it's time to have a crack."

Saturday won't be the first time they've gone head-to-head. In 2016, Robertson signed off as Canterbury coach by toppling MacDonald's Tasman outfit in the NPC final in Christchurch.

"He's a guy that thinks deeply about the game. He's coached for a long time professionally. I've coached with him quite a few times and understand how he works, so it's a bit of a game of chess, thinking what he might be thinking and probably vice-versa. But, in the end, you just concentrate on what's best for your team and go out and play," Robertson said.

The schedule-makers sure got it right when they pitted the Crusaders and Blues together in the opening round.

Blues fans, on the back of two pre-season wins, have already been singing from the rooftops that it could finally be their year.

It's unlikely the Crusaders, winners of their last eight matches against the Blues, will be ambushed, as the then reigning champion Highlanders were in round one of the 2016 season.

The Blues put on a show on a warm February evening at Eden Park, winning  33-31 - their last victory against a fellow New Zealand side.

"There will be plenty of enthusiasm, plenty of excitement, we need to make sure we're mentally there and ready to match that," Crusaders captain Matt Todd said.

"We're confident we have a good plan going into the game, if we can execute that we're confident that we can perform well."

AT A GLANCE Crusaders v Blues

Eden Park, Saturday, 7.35pm

Referee: Nick Briant

TAB odds: Crusaders $1.35 Blues $3.23

Crusaders: David Havili, Manasa Mataele, Braydon Ennor, Ryan Crotty, George Bridge, Richie Mo'unga, Bryn Hall, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Matt Todd (c), Jordan Taufua, Quinten Strange, Scott Barrett, Owen Franks, Andrew Makalio, Joe Moody. Reserves: Ben Funnell, Tim Perry, Michael Alaalatoa, Luke Romano, Tom Sanders, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Hunt, Will Jordan.

Blues: Michael Collins, Melani Nanai, Ma'a Nonu, TJ Faiane, Rieko Ioane, Otere Black, Jonathan Ruru; Akira Ioane, Dalton Papalii, Tom Robinson, Josh Goodhue,  Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Sione Mafileo, James Parsons, Alex Hodgman. Reserves: Matt Moulds, Karl Tu'inukuafe, Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Gerard Cowley-Tuioti, Matt Matich,, Augustine Pulu, Harry Plummer, Sonny Bill Williams.

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