Knowler: Past lessons key for the Crusaders

UNDER PRESSURE: Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.
UNDER PRESSURE: Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder.

Todd Blackadder's gallows humour provided one of the few bright moments of the Crusaders' season last Friday night.

Following the defeat to the Blues, in which they blew a 17-3 head start, coach Blackadder was asked why the Crusaders took the unusual decision to complete passing drills at halftime.

"It's sports science. It's getting our guys ready to start the second half," Blackadder remarked.

"Obviously we proved that really works out there tonight."

The Crusaders had led 17-15 at the break. They lost 35-24. Blackadder wasn't being flippant about his team's defeat. He knows he can't afford to be.

But perhaps injecting some unexpected humour into post-match interviews helps coaches remind themselves the next game is only around the corner.

Last year Chiefs coach Dave Rennie, having watched the Crusaders murder his lot 43-15 in Christchurch, referred to the after-match buffet when asked what positives he took from the game.

Rennie appeared to give the question some serious thought before stating: "There's some nice chicken in the changing shed."

Not all coaches have the ability to display humour after a loss.

A sun-parched sheep's skull displayed more emotion than Robbie Deans after a defeat.

Ex-Canterbury coach Aussie McLean, now in the All Blacks coaching team, gave the impression he might explode. You trekked around him with some caution.

Waratahs coach Michael Cheika has been one of the most volatile to visit Christchurch in recent times.

After his side's narrow loss to the Crusaders last year, Cheika lifted his barrels and kept firing.

His targets included Sanzar referees boss Lyndon Bray, referee Glenn Jackson and a fan who he alleged had flung a bottle at him.

"I don't want to be a whinger but what can you do? I don't know, maybe the Waratahs aren't supposed to win here," Cheika lamented.

"Maybe that's the rules."

Back to Blackadder.

If the Crusaders lose to the Stormers on Saturday night, coaxing any funnies out of him may be more of a challenge.

Never in his five years in charge have they lost their three opening fixtures. The worst streak was in his first year in charge in 2009 when an opening win against the Chiefs was followed by defeats to the Brumbies, Hurricanes, Highlanders and a draw with the Western Force.

In their sixth match, against the Waratahs in Sydney, the Crusaders kick-started their season with a 17-13 victory and they scraped into the semifinals.

After that game Blackadder greeted No 8 Thomas Waldrom by grabbing him around the neck and hugging him so hard his face almost turned blue. After the emotionally-barren years under Deans it was an unusual sight.

This Crusaders campaign and the start of the 2009 season are similar.

In 2009 Dan Carter was on sabbatical and Richie McCaw was sidelined with injury. This year Carter is again on sabbatical and McCaw is out for around two months with a busted thumb.

There may also be some tactical lessons to absorb from 2009 when, to get his season back on track, Blackadder tightened his game-plan.

He based his strategies around using his forwards to win territory and possession before allowing his powerful runners to carry the ball near the pack so they weren't starved of support.

It wasn't pretty but it worked. Some jittery Crusaders supporters would happily take the ugliest of wins right now.

Fairfax Media