OPINION: On February 10 at the TAB in the Albany Tavern I bet $100 on option 1936, the Crusaders to win this year's super rugby title. I've made the same bet since 1999, and it's the only bet I ever have on sport.
Here are nine reasons why I believe my betting slip will be worth $450 after the final in a fortnight's time.
Reason One: Follow the beef. Rugby games are almost never won by the team with the weakest forward pack. When you add Richie McCaw to the mix, the Crusaders have strength in the scrums (think Wyatt Crockett and Owen Franks), height and skill in the lineouts (Sam Whitelock, Dominic Bird), metre makers in the loose forwards (Matt Todd, Kieran Read), and the best all-round forward in the world (Richie McCaw). Together there isn't a pack, even the very impressive Waratahs eight, to match them.
Reason Two: Look at the street smarts. In knockout football shrewd is as important as skill. McCaw, for one, has seen both sides of the coin with the All Blacks at World Cups. When it gets grim in a final, back people who have been there and won.
Reason Three: Control play from the breakdowns, you control the game. Andy Ellis isn't in the All Blacks at the moment, but he's playing like one. He may not have as quick a bullet pass, or be quite as lightning on the break, as Aaron Smith, but he actually reads the game better than our No 1 halfback.
Reason Four: Dan Carter. Watching Carter now is a reminder that it's a little unfair to be comparing him to other five-eighths. This guy isn't just a great player, he's a once-in-a-lifetime, all-time great. The late Sir Fred Allen told me that, and nobody I've ever met knew more about the game than Fred.
Reason Five: Dan Carter. A point of weakness throughout the season is that the Crusaders have struggled to find an accomplished midfield combination. Carter, who started at second-five when he was a kid not long out of Christchurch Boys' High, has been the unlikely answer. He's strong enough on the tackle to handle the defensive duties, and playing Carter at No 12 allows the luxury of moving Ryan Crotty, a powerful, largely under-rated player, to centre.
Reason Six: Strike power. Early in the season the Crusaders attack was a popgun compared to the shotgun the likes of the Canes and the Blues brought to the table. Buying the services of Nemani Nadolo has changed all that. It helps that the cut, lithe, all-action figure of 2014 doesn't look much like the super-sized man you'll see if you check out YouTube video of him playing in France back in 2011.
Reason Seven: The shocker has been played. Early-season problems (see reasons five and six) seemed to have been resolved when the Crusaders played the Canes in June. That night the sort of gremlins that invaded the All Blacks this year in their first test against England came to visit the Crusaders. A good team can play like a crap team once. It rarely happens twice.
Reason Eight: The Crusaders don't just want it, they need it. Living in a city traumatised by the horrific February earthquake, and not playing a single game in Christchurch, in 2011, the Crusaders came within one appalling call by a touch judge (who missed a blatant forward pass in a Digby Ioane try in the round robin-game with the Reds) of having a home semifinal, and, probably, winning the title. But the call wasn't made, the title wasn't won, and if they don't win this year it'll be their sixth year without a title. The wolves were howling for Todd Blackadder's head early in the year. A title might finally shut them up.
Reason Nine: At last, no major travel. Whether it's against the Sharks, the Brumbies or the Chiefs, the semifinal next weekend will be in Christchurch. If the Crusaders win their semi, the final be in either Sydney or Christchurch.
So what could stop them winning? Only two things I can see, injuries or a crap referee. Otherwise, break out the red and black bunting.
- Sunday Star Times
What did you make of this year's ITM Cup?