Red alert as Crusaders sound warning
July 3, 2011
Reds boss Ewen McKenzie watches his side's semi-final victory over the Blues © Getty Images
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie spent little time reflecting on his side's Super Rugby semi-final victory over the Blues before setting his mind to the challenge of the Crusaders in next weekend's season finale.
McKenzie's table-topping side booked their place in their first Super Rugby final since their Super 10 triumph in 1995 with a 30-13 victory over the Blues on Saturday that ensured a return to Suncorp Stadium next weekend where they will meet a Crusaders side that was equally impressive in despatching the Stormers 29-10 in Cape Town.
While his players celebrated or recuperated after an emphatic victoryMcKenzie sat up to watch the second sudden-death encounter at Newlands - an ominous display by a nomadic Crusaders side who continue to defy a tortuous travel schedule. Overcoming adversity is hardly a foreign concept for the currently homeless Crusaders - the first team to lift a trophy outside their home country when they beat the Brumbies in Canberra 11 years ago.
They have lost their two last matches at Queensland rugby's fortress - including a controversial 17-16 defeat in the last minute on May 29 but McKenzie was taking little comfort from that statistic as he lauded their performance at Newlands. "They're a ruthless side, it was a ruthless display," he said before resuming strategic planning with members of his coaching staff.
"They've got all aspects of the game covered. Their scrum was brilliant, the goal kicking …. all that sort of stuff you need in big games. It was all on song. You can hope they can have a bad night but you have to be able to beat them at their best and that's the challenge I'm looking forward to."
The Crusaders topped the New Zealand conference but were third overall behind the Reds and Stormers, a worthy feat considering they have not played a game in Christchurch all season due to the deadly earthquake which devastated the city on February 22. McKenzie said while an inability to play at home was a disadvantage he also said the constant travel had obviously galvanised the Crusaders.
"As much as they've had to travel, you get a lot of benefit from a team perspective - you spend a lot of time together," he said.
A Reds/Crusaders final has a certain symmetry considering Queensland was also ravaged by killer floods in January. "There's no doubt it's been a difficult year for them -- it wasn't exactly the brightest start for Queensland either," he said. "There will be a lot of resolve, from both sides. I don't think the Crusaders have a mortgage on that.
"Their pain and suffering continues. We've obviously got through the worst of ours but there's still a lot of rebuilding. It's ironic, but it's good we both get to face off."
McKenzie was also looking forward to union sharing the limelight with league during a week where the State of Origin is decided - and Maroons legend Darren Lockyer makes his representative farewell on Wednesday. "League has had a fairly strong mortgage on it (coverage) in terms of the media. Hopefully we can grab a little bit of that."
McKenzie, who guided the NSW Waratahs to the 2005 and 2008 finals in Christchurch, doubted his players would get carried away with their achievement. "I don't spend any time worrying about that side of it. They're a tight group and they don't get ahead of themselves.
"There's going to be excitement about a first grand final but they're pretty good at getting back to the business of training."
Captain James Horwill said playing the finale at home was a dream come true after last featuring in the play-offs in 2001. "It's pretty well-documented that we had some dark days there," he said. "A lot of this group was a part of it. To see the effort and the way we've gone about it - not just on the field but the whole organisation - to be playing a home grand final is a massive achievement."
The Reds have no major injury concerns although No.8 Radike Samo copped a head knock before halftime last night. The Crusaders arrive in Brisbane tomorrow night unscathed apart from scrum-half Andy Ellis who has knee and shoulder problems after a collision with Springboks flanker Schalk Burger
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