Kiwi rugby players masters of 'Great Escape' video

Skipper Sam Whitelock and Crusaders team-mates celebrate Mitchell Drummond's late try against the Blues.
Kai Schwoerer/ Getty Images

Skipper Sam Whitelock and Crusaders team-mates celebrate Mitchell Drummond's late try against the Blues.

OPINION: Scott Robertson won't need reminding that the Crusaders have long had a knack for making late comeback victories a Super Rugby art form.

The current Crusaders coach was a nuggety No 8 in 2002 when the red and blacks became the first - and only - team to win the title after an unbeaten season.

Statistics don't lie, and the Crusaders' 2002 scorecard certainly looks impressive.

Scott Robertson in pensive mood before the Cruaders' third successive comeback win.
Kai Schwoerer

Scott Robertson in pensive mood before the Cruaders' third successive comeback win.

Yet, six of their first nine victories were achieved by margins of seven points or fewer - defensive bonus point territory.

READ MORE:
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A glimpse of McKenzie's future

 
Sam Cane played a big part in the Chiefs' comeback win in Melbourne.
GETTY IMAGES

Sam Cane played a big part in the Chiefs' comeback win in Melbourne.

In four of those games, the Crusaders were trailing at halftime and only eked out their wins in the final five minutes.

The nail biting nature of those victories prompted The Press newspaper to print a spoof movie poster of The Great Escape - starring 2002 Crusaders captain Reuben Thorne as Steve McQueen in the lead actor role.

It's been deja vu for Robertson in his first season in the Super Rugby coaching box.

Shaun Stevenson scores the Chiefs' bonus point clinching try against the Rebels.
GETTY IMAGES

Shaun Stevenson scores the Chiefs' bonus point clinching try against the Rebels.

The Crusaders have had to come from behind to win their last three games against the Highlanders, Reds and Blues.

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No Canterbury rugby fan likes losing to an Auckland side at home - some still smart at Carlos Spencer's salute after his length of the field try and sideline conversion at the former Lancaster Park in 2004. 

So Friday's second half surge of 28 unanswered points in 30 minutes prevented an outbreak of after-match angst in the Garden City.

How was it achieved?  Through similar ingredients to the 2002 escapology acts and the Chiefs' get-out-of-jail card against the Melbourne Rebels in their own Friday Night Fright across the Tasman.

New Zealand Super Rugby teams seem to have a critical edge in bench depth and match fitness.

Trainers and conditioners may well be the unsung heroes. Their hard work goes unnoticed during the week but is there for all to see over 80 minutes.

Yet coaches are only as good as their cattle.

The Crusaders have some rookies in their lineup this year - an injury spate means they have handed 13 men their Super Rugby debut.

But it must be dispiriting for an opposition frontrower to watch one All Black loosehead prop (Joe Moody) depart the field, only to be replaced by another (Wyatt Crockett).

Likewise at lock where Luke Romano backs up skipper Sam Whitelock and Scott Barrett.  The Crusaders can even field all three at once with Barrett able to deputise at blindside flanker.

Romano appears to have reprised his early All Blacks role as an impact man off the bench. 

Robertson - so keen on the off-loading game - has used Romano and Crockett as ball carrying target setters this season.

Fox TV had the heart rate monitor on Rebels coach Tony McGahan in Melbourne. If the wires had been attached to Chiefs boss Dave Rennie, the readings would surely have shot through the roof.

The Chiefs were ordinary for the first hour at AAMI Stadium, yet were able to inject some dynamism into the game when it was most needed. Ex-All Black hooker Hika Elliott stiffened the pack and Aaron Cruden's second half entry gave the Chiefs a second playmaker and freed Damian McKenzie to cut his capers from fullback. 

Flanker Mitch Karpik stood out for much more than his shock of blond hair and Johnny Faauli made his presence felt as the Chiefs upped the tempo.

Class prevailed in the end with All Blacks Brodie Retallick and Sam Cane playing big parts.

Tries to Cane and Shaun Stevenson in the final three months saved the Chiefs from embarrassment.

The inexorable flow of players to overseas clubs has undoubtedly depleted the New Zealand player pool.

Yet, a time when Super Rugby bosses are pondering cutting Australian and South African teams, New Zealand franchises still seem to be able to pluck the plums from the Kiwi grassroots rugby production line.

As a result, the Crusaders and Chiefs both have four wins from four this season without really putting a total 80 minute performance on the track.

 - Stuff

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