Crusaders ready for ‘pinnacle’ final at a packed Eden Park

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Coach Scott Robertson said he wondered about having a top eight playoffs, but with the introduction of Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua, who had their moments, and the move into finals football and narrowing the finalists down had made for a great competition.

 

"It's going to be a pinnacle game to finish it on and we're excited to be part of it and leave our mark on it," he said.

 

Robertson said after their heavy tackling effort on Friday last week to beat the Chiefs by making a Super Rugby record of 246 tackles, the Crusaders benefited from having an extra day to prepare and were in good physical shape.

 

It had also been a boost when Argentine flanker Pablo Matera suffered no consequences when his red card went before the judiciary.

 

Robertson said Matera was emotional when he was cleared for selection for the final, because it had been a big move to bring his family halfway around the world and to have had to sit and watch while under suspension would have been hard.

 

He didn't lack material from their legacy of finals success to draw on for the side's build-up during their final week of the year. That included the good things and those where they could have done better.

 

Former coach Robbie Deans and some Crusaders' captains had passed on quiet words about what was required to win finals.

 

Robertson said that so many of the Crusaders from the late-1990s were successful coaches, like him and Blues coach Leon MacDonald, came down to being taught about the love of the game and what was required to be consistent over a long period of time.

 

Wayne Smith had changed the way players looked at the game, especially in their preparation, and that also had an effect, he said.

 

Captain and lock Scott Barrett said three of the players, wing George Bridge, centre Braydon Ennor and No8 Cullen Grace, would have plenty of motivation in the final after missing All Blacks selection earlier in the week.

Barrett said a sold out Eden Park would have give it a Johannesburg feel, as mostly Blues supporters would be cheering against the Crusaders.

 

The aim would be to keep the crowd quiet for most of the game, but it would add to the excitement around the game.

 

Robertson said the narrative of having to win a final away from home was different to when the Crusaders started their five-finals winning sequence in Johannesburg in 2017.

 

They hadn't won the Super title for nine years and had to play in front of 60,000 at Ellis Park. While that was similar, the difference this time was the way in which the Blues had played all year to finish the regular season on top of the points table.

 

"It's been a long time since they lost at Eden Park, so they've made the garden pretty special.

 

"It's a hell of a week to go up there and have a rivalry. It's just what Super Rugby needs. We're excited, it's a perfect occasion for us," he said.

 

The Crusaders' success was built on great defence, and the Blues this year had a lot of their success off a great defensive effort.

 

"They've defended, and scrambled and taken key moments to give themselves the opportunity to kick a dropped goal, or a late try, just to get themselves in it, so we understand what is required on both sides of the ball," he said.