Razor's regime reaping rewards as Crusaders look set to seal top spot in Super Rugby's New Zealand conference
Scott Robertson says this is the fittest Crusaders side in quite some time, and believes it's a big key to his team's remarkable 12 from 12 start to the Super Rugby season.
Non-fancied by plenty heading into 2017, the Crusaders have now notched a club and competition record for successive victories, with their latest a gutsy 31-24 result against the Chiefs in Fiji on Friday night, which has them well on track to top the New Zealand conference and claim all-important home advantage for the playoffs
Not only have the Christchurch-based outfit operated without star men for several games - in Suva they were minus All Blacks Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Scott Barrett and Israel Dagg, while Ryan Crotty left with concussion inside the first quarter - they have also shown a penchant to fight their way back from behind.
Of their 12 games, the Crusaders haven't had a halftime lead in five of them, including all four of their crucial derby matches. In those derbies they've only managed two first-half tries, but then only conceded two second-half tries. Overall they've scored 217 first-half points to 239 second-half points, while conceding 130 compared with 101.
There's certainly a strong resolve and mental fortitude to force their way back and close out contests, and the bench has been superb; though on top of that, Robertson, in his first year at the helm, is seeing the rewards of a tough training regime.
He's a quirky one, the man they call 'Razor'. As casual as they come, seemingly just one of the boys and always good for a quip. And maybe that breath of fresh air, particularly different to Todd Blackadder, has done a job in itself.
But on the back of great success with Canterbury and the New Zealand Under-20s, he has also got to grips with a handy fitness plan, taking into account running metres for various positions on the park, which has transformed the team's training style, and is working wonders.
"We're fit, very very fit, the fittest we've been for a long time," said Robertson, who paid credit to strength and conditioning coach Simon Thomas and the support crew.
"What we did was in the pre-season time, make sure we got enough kms in our legs so that we could last the season, and kick on at the end of games.
"We've trained different through the week... to get our running metres up.
"It's pretty scientific, you don't just turn up and run from line to line. Everyone's got a goal each week they need to achieve and then they've got to make it faster the next time. So there's a lot of running miles, and the balance of the week to make sure we can keep conditioned in-season's critical as well. It's a whole big picture, support staff, and a lot of philosophy on the way I like to run my week with them. So, so far so good."
Particularly so considering the team's recent travel schedule, which has gone under the radar and could conceivably have tripped them up, having arrived back from South Africa to face the Hurricanes, then flying to Fiji for the Chiefs, with a trip to Melbourne for next weekend.
"My language and mindset, I'm big on the way we talk. The draw's the draw, and you embrace it," Robertson said.
"We recover like it means everything to us, it's a part of training, really. So as a group we're extremely professional and we make sure we enjoy what we do. It could be a distraction, but there's no excuses in this team, we embrace what's in front of us."
That means now carrying on to claim top spot in the conference. With an 11-point buffer, it will take quite something for them to be overtaken.
"We know how important it is to finish top, and we learnt that lesson from last year as the Crusaders, having to win these clutch games and making sure you give every opportunity to play in front of your people," Robertson said.
"We've got two New Zealand teams [the Highlanders at home and the Hurricanes away] before the end of the competition, and obviously a Rebels side that can do anything on its night, so we've still got a little bit to go."