It's the playoffs, a time to savour.
Especially as this time, it's playoff time with a little added seasoning.
Not only are the Crusaders set to face habitual and worthy adversaries in South Afirca's Bulls, but they also go into tonight's first round encounter, with a semifinal spot beckoning, under the shadow of allegations this week of cheating.
Will the latter state of affairs bother Richie McCaw, or indeed any of his red and black-clad cohort? Probably not. Indeed New Zealand's World Cup-winning captain has already indicated he's not perturbed.
But the allegations by Mark Reason, who pens a weekly column for Fairfax, could nevertheless turn the glare of the spotlight that will already be on the team up by a couple of notches.
Reason alleged in his column, published on Wednesday in the Herald, that McCaw had far too much to say to referees, who were intimidated by his status and would not stand up to him. Halfback Andy Ellis and back-rower Kieran Read, an increasingly influential All Black, were others he said "work on referees".
"Too many Crusaders intimidate referees, take cheap shots at the opposition and serially cheat around the ruck and maul. It is a cultural malaise that is presumably encouraged by the coaching staff and sets a terrible example to young players around New Zealand."
Reason's piece outlines an opinion he clearly genuinely holds, and backs up with numerous examples of such alleged indiscretions from his close observations. I'm not qualified to say he's right or wrong, but he certainly has got tongues wagging.
But it's an opinion, nevertheless, so McCaw, coach Todd Blackadder, et al, don't really need to respond. They could choose to treat the criticism as being of the variety that successful sports teams often attract; a touch of tall poppy syndrome if you will, even if the red and black poppies might not currently be as tall as they have been in the past.
It is a slight on a fabled reputation, though, and if they want to silence the sniping from the sidelines, there's a simple solution going into tonight's important clash. They need to win the game sticking to the letter of the law, instead of going out to test where the referee's interpretations might fall at the first couple of rucks and mauls, and using that as a guideline. They're surely capable, at home.
At any rate, it's questionable whether Richie McCaw's elevated status would do him much good in attempting to intimidate referee Jaco Peyper, given not only that he was chosen on his good performances this season, but that he hails from South Africa. Reputations only stretch so far.
- © Fairfax NZ News