Buoyant halfback Andy Ellis in love with footy
This is the time of year when Andy Ellis has no problem justifying his decision to stay in New Zealand.
Although he will soon leave Christchurch to play in Japan on a short-term contract before returning to re-join the Crusaders around March next year, it's no secret the halfback has declined longer-term deals to play for offshore clubs.
Ellis' determination to convince All Blacks coach Steve Hansen he deserves to be in next year's World Cup squad was the major reason for re-signing with the New Zealand Rugby Union until the end of next year's Super Rugby season but the fringe benefits have also been considerable.
Since joining the Crusaders in 2006 Ellis has become addicted to the rush of making the play-offs and as they prepare for their home semifinal on July 25-26 he said nothing has changed.
''This is what I love,'' he said ahead of his ninth finals series. ''This is why I am staying in New Zealand and playing footy.''
The 30-year-old won titles in 2006 and 2008 but in the last five years the Crusaders have repeatedly stumbled in the play-offs.
Apart from 2011, when their globe-trotting run ended with a shattering 18-13 loss to the Reds in the grand final in Brisbane, they have flopped in the semis in Pretoria, Soweto and Hamilton - twice.
While the 2011 defeat was a cruel way to end what could have been a fairytale season, last year's loss was galling for a different reason: the Chiefs were struggling with injuries, while the in-form Crusaders, with Dan Carter in dynamite form, appeared to be peaking.
Instead the Chiefs triumphed 20-19 and defended their title by beating the Brumbies a week later.
In their post-season debrief the Crusaders decided enough was enough.
''The one thing we talked about afterwards was that we needed to finish first or second so that we could have come into it and just be humming, really,'' Ellis reiterated.
''We put a lot of energy into our quarter-final last year [against the Reds] and that took a lot out of us. I know that sounds like a bit of a cop-out but I think that is a bit of a reality.''
Last Saturday night's 34-8 win over the Highlanders at AMI Stadium means the Crusaders automatically qualify to host a semifinal at AMI Stadium on July 26.
Ellis also revealed that tacked on the board in their meeting room is the phrase ''No 1 Mindset''.
''It refers to everything we do, really. Every decision we make, whether it is on the field or away or home by ourselves, we have No 1 Mindset and hopefully that helps us.''
The prospect of the Crusaders finishing second seemed unlikely when they lost to the Chiefs, Blues and Hurricanes in their first five matches but their ability to adapt their game plans instigated a remarkable turnaround.
Ellis also observed how being in the play-offs suddenly provides a miracle cure for the injuries many players have carried throughout the year.
''There's a period through the season, because it is so long, where you are trying to genuinely prepare every week but you are sort of going through the motions a bit.
''Then it comes to now and you basically wake-up with butterflies in your stomach because you know this is it, this is what you have worked so hard for.''