The Crusaders' biggest fan loves every jolly one of the players, but she holds a special place in her heart - and wallet - for "my Sammy" Whitelock.
Doreen Searle, 91, admits she is the most staunch, one-eyed Cantabrian of them all. She never married, but has a whole squad of children.
"They're my boys. I just live for them, they're my special people."
The true extent of her adoration for Whitelock was revealed when she met the team at pre-match training yesterday.
The "gorgeous and charming" lock became lost for words when he saw his own photo tucked in her red purse.
"I will have to tell my girlfriend to watch out," Whitelock said.
"Someone said you had a girlfriend, and I said 'oh bugger that'," Searle replied.
But the blush really crept from under his beard when the petite fan suggested she would next like to see him in "Dan Carter's Jockeys".
Searle's home is adorned with Crusader memorabilia on the walls up as far as her step ladder can reach, and she has several scrapbooks of articles.
She also has a row of original Lancaster Park wooden seats.
She frequently sends mail to the players, and red and black booties "whenever there is a Crusader baby born".
Players have returned the favours over the years, including an 80th birthday card from Todd Blackadder and a bottle of sherry for her 90th birthday from Reuben Thorne.
Every game, Searle - dressed from head to foot in red and black clothing - pulls her seat up close to the television and pours a half glass of Thorne's sherry to calm the nerves and "for the health of the Crusaders".
"I don't go silly over it, just a bit when they score."
"But my niece rings me up after a big win to see if I'm still sober."
When players retire, Searle catches the bus as far as Rangiora and Methven, and walks around town collecting signatures on giant cards to send them.
"I get a lot of pleasure out of it. I think they keep me going, the Crusaders."
Her dedication to the team was summed up nicely by another of her favourites, Andy Ellis, when he said: "You're pretty much our mascot aren't you, Doreen.
"We'll win [tonight's] game for you."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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