Blackadder targets "special" victory
July 7, 2011
Daryl Gibson and Todd Blackadder celebrate the Crusaders' Super 12 Final victory over the Brumbies in 2000 © Getty Images
Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder has set his sights on a "special" victory in Saturday's Super Rugby Final showdown with the Reds.
The seven-time champions have defied the odds this season having spent the entire campaign on the road after their AMI Stadium home was damaged in the earthquake that devastated Christchurch back in February. They now stand one game away from capping an epic 100,000km journey with yet another Super Rugby title - an achievement that Blackadder insists would eclipse any other in their illustrious history.
"I think it would be one of those ones you'll remember forever," said Blackadder, who captained the Crusaders to their first three titles between 1998 and 2000. "You remember all of them but this one would be a little bit special in the fact there's been a lot to play for this year. We know who we're playing for, all of our people back home."
Blackadder, who replaced Robbie Deans as the Crusaders head coach for the 2009 season, is now on the verge of eclipsing what his illustrious predecessor achieved - guiding the first team in the southern hemisphere tournament's history to win both a semi-final and final on foreign soil.
A resurgent Reds side with ambitions of celebrating their first Super Rugby crown of the professional era are also the last obstacle preventing Blackadder becoming the first player then coach to win a title.
Blackadder was his typically relaxed self today after confirming the Crusaders would field a full-strength team against the Reds after scrum-half Andy Ellis passed a fitness test on knee and shoulder injuries. Inevitably he was quizzed on how the latest traverse across the Indian Ocean had impacted on his team but he insisted the long haul last weekend's semi-final victory over the Stormers was hardly out of the ordinary.
"We've become used to it now, we are good to go," he said, emphasising tiredness would not be an excuse if the Reds conjured up a third successive victory over the Crusaders at Suncorp Stadium.
Blackadder said the squad was not interested in mitigating factors if they are denied a title dedicated to the people of earthquake-shattered Christchurch. He also scoffed at suggestions the Crusaders had exceeded expectations by advancing to a 10th title decider despite a sequence on adverse events that also included the disadvantage of losing at least two potential competition points when their second round match with the Hurricanes was declared a draw four days after central Christchurch was reduced to rubble.
Even the draw conspired against the Crusaders when South Africa's lowly Lions and newcomers Melbourne avoided potential thrashings; later their injury toll forced flanker Matt Todd to play more than half a game on the wing and Richie McCaw's on-going foot problem limited him to just six appearances. Despite all those setbacks, Blackadder was confident his squad would persevere and thrive.
"I knew two years ago we had a young developing side and last year I felt we had a team that could challenge. When (assistant) Daryl (Gibson) and I selected this group we felt we had a championship winning team here. We felt we had enough depth.
"Obviously with the earthquake and no home games it made it tougher but it just highlights what a great bunch of blokes we've got. If we didn't have that inner belief we wouldn't be here. We would have chucked the towel in months ago. Adversity brings people together. We've all had to get on with it."
Refusing to play the Hurricanes could have been a turning point, relocating the Sharks home game to Twickenham was another gamble and although the London exercise was not as financially rewarding as anticipated, the journey undeniably developed team morale. "There were times when I thought this was going to be a big challenge and a big obstacle but we've overcome them all," Blackadder said.
Veteran lock Brad Thorn is another who feels the weight of expectancy. "This one... it's been a big 10 months back there [in Christchurch]. I feel a responsibility, there's more to this game," he said. "In the past when I've played grand finals it's been about the team and you share it with the fans as well. This time I really feel this is something for the people back there. I know this is something that would be very special for them. I imagine it will have a great impact."
With AMI Stadium off limits, the Crusaders have had to venture far and wide this season but thoughts are never far from home. "I'm pretty lucky it (aftershocks) doesn't really bother my wife. I've got kids, my oldest is seven, they're pretty relaxed too but some kids at school are jumping under the desks. Then you've got the elderly, mums at home by themselves... You just feel so proud of those people back there."
Thorn said the team had been gratified by messages of support and felt Cantabrians took a perverse satisfaction in being denied the opportunity to see the team play in Christchurch. "I think they really love the fact we've been on the road the whole time, that we've had injuries and we're still here. When we came third we had to go to Africa [the Cape Town semi-final] and back and stuff. We've had obstacles but we've never complained or carried on."
While the team is automatically asked about the earthquake and the effect it has had on them, Thorn said it was rarely spoken about inside the team environment. "We don't really need to talk about it much because we're living it," he said. "It's 4am in the morning and bang, your house has moved. You look outside, trees are moving, poles are moving... It's psychological warfare from mother nature."
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