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How Tom Christie took Razor's mentoring to succeed Matt Todd as the Crusaders' No 7

By Adam Julian
Captain Tom Christie of the Crusaders leads his team onto the field prior to the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between the Crusaders and Chiefs at Apollo Projects Stadium, on March 29, 2024, in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Photo by Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

When the Crusaders defeated the Chiefs 37-26 to achieve their first Super Rugby Pacific victory in 2024, Captain Tom Christie said, “I think there was just a sense of freedom. Obviously, there’s been a little bit in the media if you chose to read it and it was kind of like the shackles were off. It takes a little bit of pressure off, we just wanted to come out here and play Crusaders rugby and I think we showed that. We showed that when we get it right, we’re a dangerous team.”

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The Crusaders had lost an unprecedented five consecutive matches. Why wouldn’t the Crusaders play with freedom from the outset? They’ve won seven consecutive Super Rugby titles.

“After five weeks we put unnecessary pressure on ourselves; pressure we wouldn’t necessarily put ourselves under earlier in the season,” Christie responded to RugbyPass.

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“There was a desperation to get the monkey off the back. I think everyone knows the process and everyone would give their all for this jersey, this jersey’s a special thing, there’s a lot of history in it and everyone really cares about it.”

Christie is dyed-in-the-wool Christchurch. He was educated at Shirley Boys’ High School and played in the First XV from 2014 to 2016.

His debut for Canterbury was off the bench in the 2017 NPC final where Canterbury defeated Tasman 35-13. He’s since represented the red and blacks 55 times (35 wins).

Christie became a Crusader in 2020. He battled with a dislocated shoulder before establishing himself permanently in 2022. He has played 39 out of the last possible 40 games. The Chiefs victory was the first time he had led the Crusaders.

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“That wasn’t planned. Mitchell Drummond was captain but he pulled up lame with a vomiting bug so Noah Hotham replaced Mitch at halfback and I was asked to captain with David Havali also out,” Christie explained.

“The late notice didn’t give me much time to think about it, which was a blessing in disguise.

“I wanted to play my own game and naturally find that balance between leading by example and communicating with the boys.

“I must admit the emotion didn’t hit me until I ran out of the tunnel. It was a great opportunity.”

With 16 tackles and two pivotal turnovers in the last ten minutes, Christie was to the fore of the Crusaders success. Their horrific injury list, which has eliminated several All Blacks, appeared briefly irrelevant.

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“Everyone’s got injuries, they’re an unfortunate part of the game. You have to adapt, keep moving, and remind young guys they’re there for a reason,” Christie said.

The biggest reason Christie is a Crusader is his relentless appetite for tackling. Christie topped the season tackle count in 2022 (246) and 2023 (231). This year he leads the chasing pack with 127 tackles in six games.

Former All Blacks openside and assistant coach Matt Todd played a similar role for the Crusaders.

In a three-year title span from 2017 to 2019, Todd made 558 tackles ranking second twice and eighth for the most tackles in a season. Todd won 102 of his 141 matches for the Crusaders.

“I love tackling. I developed that at Shirley Boys. In my first year in the First XV, we were second to last and I topped the tackle count,” Christie said.

“You want to limit time on defence so getting more turnovers is always a focus but I’m happy to do what’s required.”

Shirley Boys made the final of the Crusades First XV competition in Christe’s last year at school in 2016. In 2017 he was a member of the most recent New Zealand Under 20s side to win the junior World Cup. At the Crusaders, Christie worked closely with new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson on becoming a more rounded openside.

“Razor is an incredible man; what you see is what you get, and he doesn’t shy away from that. He believes to succeed you have to build a relationship of real trust so constructive feedback comes from a place of care and consideration.

“We connected most strongly about my game because we played the same position but see things differently.

“When reviewing a game Razor always allowed me to see things from a different perspective, and take good things away from it.

“Typically it would be highlighting where I could have made a better decision like positioning in the defence line or when and where to attack a ruck, little things like that.

“Openside is such a competitive position. You’re always seeking those little advantages.”

The Crusaders travel to Sydney this weekend to joust with the wobbling Waratahs who haven’t won a match since conquering the Crusaders 37-24 in Round 2.

Christie debuted for the Crusaders in a 42-25 win over the Waratahs in 2020. He hopes to “build upon the momentum” while “taking things one game at a time.”

The Crusaders have only missed the Super Rugby playoffs in 1996, 1997, 2001, and 2015. They won away finals in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2022 and 2023.

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