Crusaders add a smile to impressive record
Somewhere along the way, the Crusaders have stopped having fun as they've carved an incredible record of success in Super Rugby.
It's time, they've decided, to put the smiles back on the dials.
Veteran Crusaders halfback Andy Ellis told Sunday News, after his team were rolled 38-21 by the Highlanders in Oamaru on Friday, that there had been a major mindset shift at a franchise where success has become de rigeur.
As well as their seven championships, the Crusaders have made the playoffs every year but one since 1998, and are on a run of 11 straight finals appearances. However, they haven't lifted the silverware since 2008 and have been knocked out at the semifinal stage in three of the last four seasons.
Coach Todd Blackadder is clearly feeling the pressure and is on the record confirming he's had a rethink over the best way to get maximum value out of his many All Blacks.
There's also been a coaching controversy at the normally water-tight franchise, with a disgruntled Daryl Gibson jumping ship to the Waratahs, and Tabai Matson and Aaron Mauger being brought in as new assistants.
But it would appear change has been good for the Crusaders, with some fresh ideas bringing a welcome attitude change, even if the Zac Guildford controversy has added an unwanted spanner to the works,
"I'm excited about this season," said Ellis, 28. "We've had a really good preseason together, we've spent a great week away hunting and bonding, and all the boys are excited about the style of play we're going to go into the season with.
"We're looking to strike to score tries, and if we don't then we're looking to play with width. We've got forwards who are really skilful and can offload in the tackle, and we're hoping to play an exciting brand of rugby.
"I think you'll see an upbeat, exciting style of play, and something we're going to have to be extremely fit for."
Ellis felt playing the right game would also help with the tricky matter of assimilating All Blacks.
"You've just got to create an environment that the All Blacks love being part of, so when they come back they can really express themselves and just really enjoy it.
"The key to this competition is you've got to be winning games, you've got to be playing semis and finals at home, and that means getting up to top of the table early. If you can do that there's often a good buzz and feel in the team anyway."
Ellis said the pressure to deliver a title was nothing new for this franchise.
"It's the big driving force for a lot of the boys, and it's been a tough few years, and we're due one. All I can say is I hope we've learned from our mistakes of the past. There's a good steel this year, a bit of intensity.
"There's just so much hunger here, we know what we're capable of, we know how much people down here love their footy and what their expectations are.
"There's definitely pressure with the expectations, but the highest ones are what we put on ourselves and each other. We know the history of the Crusaders and what's expected, and we're the lucky ones who get to go out there and make it happen."
Many believe Ellis played more than well enough last year to be an All Black. But he hasn't been wanted since making the last of his 26 appearances in 2011's World Cup triumph.
However, the likeable halfback shrugs off any suggestions he's heading into 2013 with a serious statement to make.
"I'd love to wear the black jersey again, but I'm 28 now and really want to enjoy my rugby. If I'm enjoying my rugby I'll play my best anyway because the two go hand in hand.
"The Crusaders and Canterbury are both really special environments, and my really good lifelong mates are here. I'm just enjoying my time with them."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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