MacDonald up for first finals challenge as a coach

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He shared in several Super Rugby titles as a player for the Crusaders in their first golden era but, as a coach, he has led his adopted side into uncharted waters as they attempt to claim their first title since 2003.


They secured a home final after Saturday's knockout final round of games saw the Crusaders fail to come up with the necessary number of points to frustrate the Dunedin-based side, who had set the weekend up by beating the Brumbies in Canberra on Friday.


Knowing that the only thing that counted was a win over the Force for the Blues to secure the final, they did enough to claim a 31-21 win.


MacDonald saw the best of his side in the first half as they racked up a 28-0 lead but then saw them slip off the pace in the second half.


"I thought our first half was really good. I thought we brought a good intensity with our defence in particular. We got off the line, it was really greasy out there. It made handling tough for both teams.



"We wanted to put them under a bit of pressure. We didn't overplay, we didn't try and chuck too many silly offloads in the first half, and I thought we were really disciplined, and played a good tactical kicking game as well."


At halftime, the message was simple: keep doing what you were doing.


However, it was disappointing they hadn't maintained that in the second half.


MacDonald said making the final was special for the side. They had been disappointed with not making the Super Rugby Aotearoa final, but it was their form that had let them down.


They had turned around and regrouped and been consistent for four weeks which set them up for the chance to play to secure a final on Saturday.


β€œTo be able to grab that, and have a home final, is going to be special. There are a lot of guys in our group who have been part of the Blues for a long time and who have been desperately keen to play in a Super final, so it is a special moment for us.”

Leon MacDonald


MacDonald acknowledged the Force for being a team that played for 80 minutes. They were very fit and had put pressure on the Blues. There were pre-final favours they had done the Blues in the second half. They had upset their lineout and denied them the chance to set up drives.


They were all fixable elements of their game, but he was disappointed they appeared.


They played smarter rugby in the Trans-Tasman competition. They had put miracle plays away and were prepared to work harder for longer.


"Our intensity in defence has been better as well. There has been a real willingness in our defence and it has set us up."


MacDonald was impressed with the way the Highlanders dealt with the Brumbies on Friday.


"I thought they were outstanding the way they played. Their set-piece was fantastic, some of their special plays off lineouts were great and creative," he said.


Halfback Aaron Smith and first five-eighths Mitch Hunt drove them around the field well.


"They deserve to be there. They've been doing their thing consistently in the background through the whole tournament and they've got better and better to the point now where they're a scary threat," he said.


The absence of the Crusaders meant two teams who believed they could win would play the final.