Another regular season has come to a close, and yet again the Crusaders have set the standard for NZ rugby franchaises in the 2004 Super 12 competition.
(And before you Blues fans start spitting your Tuis, which frankly is one of the better things you can do with that stuff, take a look at the standings. And while you are doing that you can ponder how long it might be before your beloved show ponies can claim to have made the playoffs 6 times in 7 seasons.)
I know we haven't exactly been prolific in our coverage of the boys in Red and Black this season but it's not because we weren't keeping an eye on their efforts. As hard as it is to admit in the presence of Black Toddadder, sometimes there are more important things in life than rugby.
Anyway, enough excuses and Blues insults, lets take a quick look back at the 2004 season from a Crusaders perspective.
The Crusaders finished second on the standings with a record of 7 wins and 4 losses (in red).
Of those matches the best were the games against the Blues (yes I know we lost), the Highlanders, the Brumbies and the Stormers.
In terms of really putting it together for 80 minutes they only really managed to do that against the Brumbies, although I thought they played very well against the Blues, it was just that Rupeni and Carlos had one of those games. The bastards.
The two top players this season for the Crusaders were also the top two kiwi players in the competition (and arguably the top two players in the whole competition), Richie Mccaw and Dan Carter.
Both guys consistantly performed at a very high level, stayed calm under pressure and led by example. They will both be automatic selections for the All Blacks this year, and hopefully for many years to come.
Unfortunately the other All Blacks or ex-All Blacks in the squad weren't quite so consistant though. Not that the Crusaders won't have good representation in the black jersey this year, I expect there to still be at least 8 or 9 Crusaders guys in the AB squad.
You know what you get with experienced campaigners like Marshall, Jack and Somerville and as a result they will all get the nod again but I'm not so sure that the two Thorn(e)s will get the call up again this season. Neither of them had poor seasons but I don't feel like they did enough to warrant consideration ahead of the likes of Chiefs standouts Gibbs and Robinson. Personally I would prefer to see those two in the squad ahead of Captain Invisible and the Bradinator, although having big bad Brad on the bench would be fine.
The other ex-All Blacks in the squad had pretty poor seasons I thought. Aaron Mauger, Caleb Ralph and Ben Blair would all be pretty disappointed on the whole.
Mauger is the only one likely to make the ABs, and that's just because of his mid-field versatility. He couldn't get a run at his favoured no 12 and suffered a few niggly injuries so as a result struggled to find any consistancy at 10 or 13.
In the outside backs Blair just looked nervous most of the time (he seems to play better when he has the goal-kicking duties) and Ralph didn't seem to get many chances.
In the hooking spots Corey Flynn and Mark Hammett's seasons were an injury-prone mess (is Flynn really worth the effort, just give him a regular role on Shortland Street as a patient and spare us the agravation!), luckily for the team Tone Kopelani stepped up his game.
It seems like the fairytale is finally over for Mehrts. It's not like he wasn't given a chance this year, he just couldn't hold onto a starting spot ahead of all the young talent. Thanks for the memories Mehrts, hopefully you can go out with another title and then hang up the boots and get behind a microphone, god knows you will be a damn sight more entertaining there than any of the other ex-players who are currently playing commentator!
I won't try and dissect every game, rather I'll just run through some of the memorable moments from the Crusaders season (in the order I remembered them!):
- Mehrts putting the hurt on David Holwell in round 11
- A 14 man Crusaders team holding out and then dominating a 15 man Stormers for 60 minutes
- Vunibaka running down Paulse and reclaiming posession in the dying moments of that same game
- Vunibaka scoring from a chip kick, twice in two weeks! (against the Cats and Bulls)
- Vunibaka finally showing an all round game, including actually kicking the ball with purpose. Now all he needs to learn is how to drop on the ball when it's on the ground.
- Dan Carter's confirmed class. Not only the best back in NZ rugby the best goal-kicker too.
- Richie Mccaw's weekly energiser bunny impersonations. The guy sets the standard for loose forward play, and just never gives up.
- Carlos's performance at Jade, including the cocky last minute try and bonus-point denying side-line conversion
- Cameron Mcintyre's elevation to starting No 10, ahead of a legend on the decline (Mehrts) and two All Black inside back both capable of playing the position.
- The lack of any real public uproar over (9).
- The impact of No 8 Mose Tuaili, a loan player from Auckland who is now set to be a Canterbury fixture for at least the next two seasons. Tough luck Broomhall
- The very poor season by the Mauger brothers. Especially Nathan.
- The lack of confidence from Ben Blair. I expected him to nail down the No 15 with Rangi out of the picture
- Carter nailing a fulltime penalty to steal the game against the Cats
- Greg Somerville's big shit-eating grin after each of his two tries against the Bulls
Getting smashed (literally) by the Hurricanes wasn't exactly a confidence booster going into the semis but at least our boys get to play at home first up and have got the best of the matchups by facing a jet-lagged Stormers (tough luck guys, just be thankful for the airpoints).
If we can win that one then we can go into the final feeling confident that we beat both the Brumbies and Chiefs in the round robin. Not to mention the fact that the Brumbies have never beaten us in the playoffs and just making the playoffs is a major achievement for the Chiefs.
Championship number five is a definite possibility. Gotta love that!
Go the Crusaders!!