Scotty Stevenson (and Scott Robertson) are already looking towards a three-peat.
It was done, and it began again.
What they began, they finished on Saturday night in Christchurch. The Crusaders won a game all but a few thought they would win. There may have even been some within the Lions who couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe in miracles, even though miracles lie at the heart of their culture.
The Crusaders did what they said they would, and then immediately thought about doing it again.
There have been many words written about the Crusaders – Ali Williams, in his RugbyPass column this week, did a fantastic job in broad-stroking the philosophy of the side, his own personal experience as part of the championship-winning side of 2008 neatly augmenting what has become so obvious to those of us who sit outside the tent – and central to every story has been the concept of dynasty. A dynasty relies on something else: a relentless subjugation of individual aspirations for the betterment of the team.
Make no mistake, that is not to say the Crusaders don’t value the individual. For a side that has long been criticised for being, let’s just say, a touch vanilla, the Crusaders are as representative of the depth and breadth of New Zealand as any other super rugby team, and they celebrate the differences their people bring with them when they arrive at Rugby Park in Christchurch – as long as those differences add, rather than subtract, from the team’s ultimate goal: winning championships.
It was always Robbie Deans’ question to everyone in his charge: what can you do today to make the team better. Scott Robertson, a very different man to Deans but a disciple of his teachings nonetheless, has taken up that eternal inquiry and turbocharged it. In a Short Ball podcast episode last year, on the eve of the Crusaders’ victory over the Chiefs in Suva, Robertson outlined the two key pillars of his organisational philosophy. To paraphrase: come to work happy to be there, and whinge up.
That simplicity (there is nothing simple about Scott Robertson, by the way. He just wants you to think that) has been fundamental to the team’s return to the summit of Super Rugby. Without something so sound to create shape and meaning, you cannot possibly add the level of detail required to get through a season. The mosaic of matchday information has been laid down within this framework by Robertson and his assistants, Brad Mooar, Jason Ryan, and Ronan O’Gara, and by a wider team of support coaches who add the finishing touches. What emerges is a picture of perfect harmony, from a game with plenty of imperfections.
Which brings us to Saturday night in Christchurch, and scenes after most of the punters had wandered out through the Addington Gates and into the frosty night. There, on a field strewn with purple streamers and victory confetti, the turf scuffed by a thousand spring marks, the team gathered as one. Scott Robertson, midway through a television interview could see the circle forming and excused himself so he could half hobble half run to the waiting team (he had twisted his knee break dancing, because, of course he had) and the ritual that was about to take place.
Two swords. One held by the captain, Sam Whitelock, the other by the retiring front row forward Wyatt Crockett. Whitelock, a man who once put his own game ahead of everything else, such had been his quest for personal perfection, was changed by the elevation to captaincy. His aggressive and empathetic leadership serving to boost his own game, all while forcing him to be more aware of what those around him were going through. The man on his left was going through a lot. Crockett had played 203 times for the Crusaders, but hadn’t been picked for the last two games. He smiled through his own natural hurt.
The team had won the title and for that he was happy. He walked into the circle, addressed the team briefly, and plunged his sword into the wet ground of AMI Stadium. Moments later, Sam Whitelock did the same. Two swords, two leaders, two titles, two years. Two is bigger than one.
It was in this observance of tradition that the Crusaders were laying down the pathway to the future. One look around the group was enough to feel bullish about the team’s hopes next season. There was Ethan Blackadder, and Quinten Strange, and Will Jordan, and Tom Sanders, and Mitch Hunt and Oli Jager and the many others who had been a part of this win and not a part of this match. They, too, wanted this moment. The wheels were already turning. Scott Robertson walked (gingerly) away from the group. “Mate,” he said, “I’ve got a couple of great ideas for next season that I have been working on, can’t wait.”
It was only 30 minutes after the final whistle. I looked at him with a mixture of bemusement and awe. You would think he could give it a rest, just for one night. No, I thought, that’s just not how it works down here.
Not with this team. Not when they are only just beginning.
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