To celebrate 25 years of Super Rugby and the Crusaders’ new tohu, or symbol, all of those who have played for the competition’s most successful franchise will be invited to functions before and after the match in Christchurch against the Highlanders on Saturday.
Included on the list will presumably be Mitch Hunt, the Highlanders’ new No 10 and the man who famously broke the hearts of some of his new teammates when he kicked his remarkable dropped goal to win the game for the Crusaders in Christchurch back in 2017.
With the score tied at 22, the Highlanders defending for 19 phases, and the clock ticking nearly two and a half minutes after the fulltime siren, Hunt, a replacement for Richie Mo’unga, was urged to intervene by loosehead prop Wyatt Crocket in words not fit to be printed here and so Hunt did by kicking the ball over from 45m out.
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It represented a near perfect combination of optimism, daring and skill, a clutch play so impressive it even attracted the attention of the touring media covering the British and Irish Lions at the time.
And now he returns in another jersey but forever part of the Crusaders’ folklore, a 24-year-old who helped the red and blacks on their way to another title.
“We know his qualities and what he brings,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said. “He’s great under pressure. It’s a helluva match. He’s a good man and good mate and a real professional.”
Robertson added: “All the brotherhood are coming in pre-game. We get to show them around and re-connect. They’ll have a couple of quiet ones to reacquaint and then we’ll head down to the ground. Afterwards they’ll get one of the tohu… to show how we’ve taken on what they created and added our own legacy.”
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Asked whether Highlanders coaches and former Crusaders Aaron Mauger and Mark Hammett would be invited, Robertson said: “They’re invited and more than welcome. The same as Leon [MacDonald], and Brad Thorn can come if he wants.”
As Hunt’s match-winner highlights, the Crusaders v Highlanders derby generally makes for a special match.
“The Party at Tony Brown’s [1999 final] and a few years later they beat us three times in a row under the roof down there – they had our number,” Robertson said. “We’ve had some great battles and a few years ago they came up and Mitch Hunt saved us on the knocker. We’re expecting that sort of game again.
“Obviously they’ve bounced back really well. Their performance against the Brumbies who are so tough to beat over there – stayed in the fight. They were committed and probably had that belief that came out right at the end. They’ll be buoyant after that.”
Crusaders lock and skipper Scott Barrett is out with a minor knee injury suffered in his team’s victory over the Blues at Eden Park, with veteran Luke Romano, who has just turned 34, getting a rare start alongside the promising 20-year-old Cullen Grace. This is the third derby in a row for the defending champions, who have a bye next week.
“Luke turned 41,” Robertson deadpanned. “It’s pretty special. He’s still going well. His impact off the bench for us has been incredible – he’s carrying old-school and cleaning out old-school. He brings a real edge and game knowledge that we need and love.”
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