McKenzie hopes for change of luck
July 8, 2011
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie has come up short twice before at the hands of the Crusaders © Getty Images
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie is hoping it will be third time lucky against the Crusaders in the Super Rugby season finale.
McKenzie guided the Waratahs to the final Super 12 decider in 2005 and returned to Christchurch three years later when a Wallabies-bound Robbie Deans ended his remarkable reign with his fifth trophy. On both occasions the Crusaders were demonstrably superior even if 10 and 8-point winning margins indicate the matches were genuine contests.
They are games he prefers not to dwell on ahead of latest assault on the Super Rugby crown at Suncorp Stadium. "There's probably a few things I won't be doing, I learnt a few lessons," he said, vaguely. Asked if he cared to elaborate, the personable McKenzie demurred: "Not publicly. There were little programme and tactical things, but nothing relevant to this team."
After his second setback at AMI Stadium the 46-year-old swapped Sydney for Paris though his tenure at the volatile Stade Francais was unsuccessfully brief. The high point of his time in the French capital was developing a passion for the Tour de France - and there is a certain symmetry in its appeal given he returned to Australia with a virtual mountain to climb.
And so far McKenzie has done an exceptional job in finally guiding the Reds to Super Rugby's pinnacle event - a decade after their last play-off appearance. The Reds' seventh coach in 11 years when he was appointed as Phil Mooney's successor after the Reds finished second last in 2009, the front rower has quickly brought rugby to the forefront in State of Origin-dominated Brisbane.
A fifth placing last year represented a dramatic improvement and now, with Will Genia and Quade Cooper in their pomp, the Reds are 80 minutes away from joining the Brumbies of 2000 and 2004 among Australian Super Rugby's elite.
Part of McKenzie's plan to resurrect Queensland rugby revolved around Saturday's opponent - rather than be scarred by the experience of those failed finals with the Waratahs, he has embraced the enemy. That is why the Crusaders were invited to Cairns in far north Queenland for a pre-season trial in February.
"We try and play the Crusaders as often as we can because they are the benchmark team," McKenzie explained. "The more we play them the more we get used to play against them. You mix in their circles and you innoculate yourself against their best players."
The age old "if you can't beat them, join them" strategy has already been vindicated - the Reds hammered the Crusaders 41-20 in the 2010 regular season and in May showed enough composure to work themselves into field position to earn a 17-16 victory courtesy of a last-minute Cooper penalty goal.
However, those successes amount to nought if the nomadic Crusaders cannot be grounded on the last leg of their epic journey. "We know a lot about them but it doesn't matter, you've still got to do something about it," McKenzie said as the Reds finessed their preparations.
Again reluctant to judge whether this Reds team had a better chance of winning than his Waratahs, McKenzie felt his current squad was more adaptable. "As much as people talk about the high risk stuff I think we've demonstrated we can adapt and play different strategies and come out with the results," he said. "I think we have a team for all occasions and across 80 minutes on Saturday we might need all of that experience."
Meanwhile, McKenzie reiterated his captain James Horwill's view that New Zealander Bryce Lawrence's appointment as referee was not an issue. "All the referees are different, they're merit based and all there because they've done well during the season. We're not too stressed. We've had Bryce a couple of times and so have the Crusaders. I'm not sure a referee suits anyone."
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