VIDEO: Crusaders doing it for Christchurch
Eight years after proving they could handle catastrophic adversity, the Crusaders have done it again by reaching the Super Rugby Final.
Now they’re determined to go one better than their remarkable post-Quake campaign of 2011 when they contest Saturday’s decider against the Jaguares in Christchurch.
The nine-time champions say they remain inspired by the people of a city still coming to terms with the anguish of the March 15 terror attack.
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Coach Scott Robertson and captain Sam Whitelock revealed the tragedy, in which 51 people were killed by a gunman at two mosques, had been both a unifying and motivating force.
“One thing we’ve done, which I’m really proud of, is that every time we’ve played, we showed how much we care about it and care about each other,” Robertson said.
“We’ve gone back through our true colours and what we stand for, and I think that shows on the field.”
Veteran lock Whitelock was part of the Crusaders team which nearly pulled off the unthinkable eight years ago following the devastating earthquake that claimed 185 lives and ruined much of Christchurch’s infrastructure.
They were forced to play every game on the road yet somehow reached the final, where they were beaten by the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
Whitelock said this year’s team had matched that outcome to this point simply through “caring about it”.
They want to provide a distraction, or sense of enjoyment, for those finding it hard to cope with what unfolded.
That translated into effort on the field.
“It’s when our line’s broken, people turn and sprint back versus taking the easy option and turn and cruise,” Whitelock said.
“They’re the little things you can see as a player. Hopefully, our city and our whole region can see that as well.”
The Crusaders inadvertently became a lightning rod for criticism in the wake of the attack because of the anti-Muslim sentiment associated with their name’s original meaning.
That issue dragged on through the season, mingling with a fresh controversy that emerged from the mid-season trip to South Africa.
All Blacks Richie Mo’unga and George Bridge became the subject of separate NZ Rugby investigations before eventually being cleared of late night offensive behaviour allegations brought against them by members of the public.
Those issues haven’t stopped the team continuing their remarkable record under Robertson, who is poised to become the first coach to win three successive Super Rugby crowns.
The Crusaders’ winning streak on home soil has stretched to 30 games while they boast a perfect record of 23 wins from every home play-off match in their decorated history.
For all their strides made this year, the men from Argentina may need something out of the box to snare a maiden title in their first Super Rugby Final.