Crusaders expecting a 'Johannesburg sort of feel' at sold-out Eden Park for final
Not only is Eden Park sold out for this weekend’s Super Rugby Pacific final between the Blues and the Crusaders, but additional standing space has also been set aside as a throwback to the past – all of which should help contribute to an exceptional atmosphere in Auckland.
The game will mark the first time the Crusaders have played a grand final match away from home since Scott Robertson’s first year in charge of the team back in 2017, when the side had to travel to Johannesburg in South Africa to take on the top-seeded Lions.
Despite a typically partisan crowd, the Crusaders emerged as victors from that match, triumphing 25-17 to score grab their first Super Rugby title since 2008, and have dominated the competition ever since.
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett is hoping for a similar atmosphere at Eden Park this weekend as when he won his first title, in that 2017 fixture with the Lions.
“It’s huge,” he said of Eden Park’s sold-out status. “It will almost have like a Johannesburg sort of feel about it where everyone’s cheering against you so you hopefully keep that crowd quiet for most of the game and we can get a result. It’s hugely exciting.”
While Barrett has enjoyed plenty of wins over the Blues since his Super Rugby debut in 2014, Saturday’s match will mark the first time the rivaly has played out in a finals game since 2003 – when the Blues triumphed 21-17.
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The rivalry may have lost some of its lustre in recent years thanks to the Crusaders’ dominance, but the Blues’ win in Christchurch earlier this season combined with their top-seeding means there will be plenty of feeling in the grand final.
“I was thinking about it this morning,” Barrett said. “Played a Crusaders Knights game up there and watched the Blues-Crusaders afterwards as a young player and I was like, ‘Wow, this is what it’s about’. Big rivalry and huge stadium and fast-flowing rugby. Certainly looking forward to this week.”
Despite Barrett’s comparisons to playing the Lions in Johannesburg, coach Robertson suggested there were also some stark differences between the finals of 2022 and 2017.
“We hadn’t won it in nine years, that time,” he said. “We’ve had some success in the last few years so probably the context of it, the narrative is a little bit different.
“We sort of went over there as extreme underdogs and Ellis Park, 60-odd thousand people – hopefully it’s 50-odd thousand at Eden Park so that side of it’s the same but probably the narrative this year has been a bit different.
“The Blues have been exceptional all year, they’re on a hell of a run. The last time they lost at Eden Park… It’s been a while. They’ve made their garden pretty special.
“It’s a hell of a week to go up there and a hell of a rivalry – just what Super Rugby needs. We’re excited. It’s the perfect occasion for us.”
Saturday night’s final is set to kick off at 7:05pm NZT from Eden Park in Auckland.