Tonight Crusaders supremo Todd Blackadder could become the first man to captain and coach Super rugby title winning teams. RICHARD KNOWLER talks to the former All Blacks skipper about his season's highs and lows.
Managing a rueful grin was the best he could do.
Todd Blackadder was lugging bags into the team bus outside the Hilton Hotel in Brisbane's central business district when The Press' correspondent tentatively tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he would offer some fresh comments on the previous night's loss.
Hours earlier the Crusaders' aspirations of completing their earthquake-disrupted season with a Super Rugby title crumbled when beaten 18-13 by the Reds at Suncorp Stadium.
Blackadder did his interview on the footpath, declining to offer any on-the-record statements about referee Bryce Lawrence's officiating of the breakdown, before pointing briefly to the sky.
''Well, you know, the sun will still come up tomorrow,'' he said laughing briefly.
Perhaps Blackadder hoped the Crusaders would win the final the next year - or the one after that.
If he did, he was wrong: consecutive losses to the Chiefs in semifinals in Hamilton completed that barren period.
Now, at last, Blackadder again has a chance to become the first person to both captain - as he did between 1998-2000 - and coach the same team to a Super Rugby crown.
The odds are more in his favour than 2011, when the Crusaders were forced to play in Nelson, Cape Town and Brisbane in the final fortnight.
Blackadder, who has never added to the seven titles won by previous coaches Robbie Deans (2000, 02, 05, 06 and 08) and Wayne Smith (1998-1999), will be desperate to not let this chance slip.
He has been involved in the finals series on nine occasions.
Six of those have been as a head coach and he has gradually learned how to cope with the tension before big matches.
''I just try to relax. I have been quite nervous on these days in the past. I feel really confident with what this team can possibly do and the work we have put in.
''We will do everything we possibly can to prepare our guys and then it is just about the boys winning those [key] moments.''
Blackadder isn't as volatile as Waratahs coach Michael Cheika, who earlier this season was sanctioned by Sanzar for repeatedly telling a South African cameraman to ''f... off'', but he can get emotional in the coaching box and release the TNT-laced language if he feels the team have been sloppy.
When the Crusaders lost to the 14-man Sharks side at AMI Stadium on May 17, Blackadder kept his composure during the media interviews. When they were over he glumly poked his hands in his pockets and admitted the performance was ''bullshit''.
A spectacular eruption, when his side let a handy lead slip against the Blues at Eden Park several years ago, almost caused the ice baths to boil.
The last 24 months have been eventful.
Daryl Gibson, having been told by Blackadder he would be demoted from his role as backs coach, left the Crusaders in late 2012. Not long after he joined the Waratahs as Cheika's assistant.
Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger were then signed by Blackadder to take charge of the backs. Dave Hewett, who took on a more wide-ranging role with the forwards after Mark Hammett left for the Hurricanes in late 2010, continued to work as the other assistant.
Much has been made of the insights Gibson could give the Waratahs ahead of the grand final but Blackadder says it wasn't a concern.
''We are a totally different team since then. As an ex-Crusaders player he will understand the psyche and that we will be up for the challenge. I don't think he will add anything that they wouldn't have already worked out.''
Last year the Crusaders board agreed to extend the contracts of Blackadder and his three assistants until after the 2016 season.
Whether those deals are honoured depends on the fine print that isn't made public; some coaches are guaranteed their term regardless of results, while others have to make the play-offs to survive.
Qualifying for the final surely guarantees Blackadder will return and the board should be impressed by his ability to convince the majority of the squad to re-sign with the franchise for next season and beyond.
There have also been some high-profile casualties this year.
Wing Zac Guildford was the invisible man and eventually cut loose.
Although Blackadder has never revealed why the former All Blacks wing was ignored, The Press understands the team's management were infuriated by Guildford's inability to abstain from alcohol.
Eventually, after several requests, he was granted an early release to join French club Clermont.
Blindside flanker George Whitelock is another high-profile player who will not return next year. He didn't get a contract extension and later lost his place to Jordan Taufua who, in turn, was replaced by the fit-again Richie McCaw for the finals.
Whitelock, also the Canterbury captain, wasn't pleased.
He had been the Crusaders man of steel in recent years but the rise of Taufua and younger brother Luke saw him squeezed out. He will soon leave to play under Robbie Deans in Japan.
Any coach who states they sleep well after a loss is either a liar or a special human being.
Blackadder is no different. He once said it is never easy drifting off following a defeat: disappointment, what went wrong, selections and tactics keep a head coach's brain spinning for hours.
He will hope for a long and peaceful sleep after tonight's grand final.
THE BIG SHOW
Tomorrow's Super rugby final in Sydney is the Crusaders' 11th in the last 16 seasons since 1998.
Played 10 Won 7 Lost 3
Points for: 237. Points against: 207
ROLL OF HONOUR
7 finals: Robbie Deans (5 wins, 2 losses)
2 finals: Wayne Smith (2 wins, 0 losses)
1 final: Todd Blackadder (1 loss)
4 finals: Richie McCaw (3 wins, 1 loss)
3 finals: Todd Blackadder (3 wins, 0 losses)
3 finals: Reuben Thorne (1 wins, 2 losses)
Most Winners' Medals
7 - Reuben Thorne
6 - Greg Somerville
4 - Caleb Ralph
2 - Mark Hammett, Casey Laula, Dan Carter
DID YOU KNOW?
* Tomorrow's game is the third time the Crusaders and Waratahs have met in a final.
* The Crusaders have won both matches in 2005 and 2008.
* Three Crusaders players are backing up from the 2005 match - Richie McCaw, Corey Flynn and Dan Carter. The Waratahs have one - Stephen Hoiles.
* Five current Crusaders played in the 2008 title winning team - Carter, McCaw, Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Wyatt Crockett. The Waratahs also have five survivors, backs Rob Horne and Kurtley Beale and forwards Wycliff Palu, Tatafu Polota-Nau and Benn Robinson.
CRUSADERS FINAL RESULTS: (legend: conv: conversion. pen: penalties. dg: dropped goal).
1998: beat BLUES 20-13 at Auckland. (James Kerr, Norm Maxwell tries, Andrew Mehrtens 2 conv, 2 pen). Coach: Wayne Smith.
1999: beat HIGHLANDERS 24-19 at Dunedin. Afato So'oalo, Daryl Gibson tries, Andrew Mehrtens conv, pen, dg. Coach: Wayne Smith.
2000: beat BRUMBIES 20-19 at Canberra. Ron Cribb try, Andrew Mehrtens 5 pen. Coach: Robbie Deans.
2002: beat BRUMBIES 31-13 at Christchurch. Caleb Ralph 2, Marika Vunibaka tries; Andrew Mehrtens 2 conv, 3 pen, dg. Coach: Robbie Deans.
2003: lost to BLUES 21-17 at Auckland. (Mark Hammett 2, Caleb Ralph tries, Andrew Mehrtens conv). Coach: Robbie Deans.
2004: lost to the BRUMBIES 38-47 at Canberra. (Richie McCaw, Aaron Mauger, Brad Thorn, Chris King, Casey Laulala, Dan Carter tries; Carter 4 conv. Coach: Robbie Deans.
2005: beat WARATAHS 35-25 at Christchurch. (Scott Hamilton, Dave Hewett, Leon MacDonald, Caleb Ralph tries; Dan Carter 3 conv, 2 pen, Aaron Mauger dg). Coach: Robbie Deans.
2006: beat HURRICANES 19-12 at Christchurch. (Casey Laulala try, Dan Carter conv, 4 pen). Coach: Robbie Deans.
2008: beat WARATAHS 20-12 at Christchurch. (Mose Tuiali'i try, Carter 4 pen, dg). Coach: Robbie Deans.
2011: lost to the REDS 13-18 at Brisbane. (Dan Carter try, conv, 2 pen). Coach: Todd Blackadder.
- The Press
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