One of the hallmarks of the title-winning Crusaders teams was a clinical ability to shut-down games. A lead, once gained, was never easily given up - if at all. The aim was to win and to win the opposition had to be starved of the ball and lured into frustration. Even the journeymen were professional in their dedication to clinical play. Acts of brilliance were used to gain the lead and then a rugged, professional attitude was employed to keep the lead. Opposition teams and fans of course are always going to substitute such terms as illegal and foul for rugged and professional- and at times there were of course cases when this was so. But the other side of such an approach was the ability to change a game-plan from attack into a defensive attack and to cut out all forms of clumsy play that might or might not come off. Last week the Crusaders were mentally tired and clumsy, unable to adjust to the game they encountered. This week they played with flashes of brilliance and at time glimpses of the old, often lost, clinical attitude. Yet the Crusaders team of the past would have shut the game down-even of attack and never instituted a play involving a long cut-out drift pass on their 22. While Adam Whitelock threw it, the team itself should never have attempted such move-especially against a team of such ragged possibilities as the Hurricanes. The other area of clumsiness was the number of kickable penalties given away and of course that can be labelled a continuation of the 'rugged, professional attitude'-just wrongly applied.
The signs are there for an improvement and most pleasing is the maturity of Ryan Crotty. The midfield of the Crusaders has lacked a maturity in attitude, that is a consistency, a professionalism, for the past few seasons. Crotty and Fruean were very young-and still are young players; but youth as not the issue, it was one of consistency. Crotty's try was an act of brilliance that he often hints of but, with only 6 super rugby tries, has rarely delivered given the number of games he has played. But more pleasing was the way that, for almost all the game, he controlled the mid-field defence. If Tom Taylor's injury is only minor it could be worth starting him at 2nd-five and pushing Crotty out one position to centre. Fruean can then be used as an impact player if and when required.
For the skill of a good mid-fielder is to be enact rugby hermeneutics- that is, to be able to interpret the context and offer new understandings and responses. Crotty tonight demonstrated that he is indeed capable of hermeneutics.