Sam Whitelock continues to provide the greatest advertisement for the coaching of Scott Robertson.
How Robertson is not the All Blacks’ head coach remains a mystery. The man’s record is phenomenal, but only tells a fraction of the story.
Not only has Robertson won provincial titles as a technical adviser, assistant coach and head coach, there’s been world under-20 and Super Rugby championships too.
More than that, though, Robertson makes average or unheralded players better.
How would the careers of George Bridge, Sevu Reece, Michael Alaalatoa, Sione Havili Talitui, Scott Barrett, George Bower, Andrew Makalio, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Braydon Ennor, Will Jordan and Leicester Fainga’anuku have gone without Robertson? There’s some pretty handy players in that lot, but how much would they have done at another franchise?
There’s always stars. Always guys like Richie Mo’unga and Jack Goodhue that people can see will amount to something. Maybe they’d have kicked on elsewhere too.
Sam Whitelock had kicked on. He’d won provincial titles and a Rugby World Cup before he began to work with Robertson on a consistent basis.
What Whitelock hadn’t done was win at Super Rugby level.
No Crusaders team did for almost 10 years. They had the talent to do it, but perhaps not the desire.
There were bigger prizes out there for some of the Crusaders’ better players and, try as coach Todd Blackadder might, that never changed.
Now there are reasons why Scott Robertson won three Super Rugby titles in as many seasons, after succeeding Blackadder, then followed that with a maiden Super Rugby Aotearoa crown.
Talent is one and culture would be another. The team’s actual method of play has been important too.
But what Robertson has done that is arguably the most critical thing of all, is he’s enthused Whitelock.
Week-in, week-out, Whitelock demands total effort from himself and those around him. And when the old man of the team is doing that, then what choice do all the others have?
It was a pleasure to watch the Crusaders beat the Blues 43-27 at Eden Park on Sunday. To see the methodical way the Crusaders dismantled the Blues’ set pieces and then punished their mistakes.
Mo’unga has won plenty of plaudits for his performance and rightly so. But, let’s be honest, Mo’unga’s always going to look a class apart when the opposition are relying on blokes like Jonathan Ruru, Otere Black, Harry Plummer and Stephen Perofeta to be accurate and composed.
With the best will in the world, none of those blokes has any real runs on the board and certainly didn’t trouble the scorers on Sunday.
But as good as Mo’unga was, Whitelock was better. It was he who led the Crusaders in all the effort areas and who was instrumental in the Blues’ lineout breaking down.
To do that at 32, with so many test and Super Rugby caps under his belt – and having enjoyed so much success – speaks volumes for Whitelock’s will to win.
It’s an endorsement of Robertson and his methods, too, and yet more proof that he ought to be working at test level by now.
People will say he’s had some good players to work with and that’s fair. But the counter argument is how many coaches can lose players of the calibre of Kieran Read, Matt Todd, Jordan Taufua, Ryan Crotty, Owen Franks, Wyatt Crockett, Tim Perry, Seta Tamanivalu, Pete Samu and Israel Dagg and just keep on winning?
Sunday’s victory at Eden Park spoke volumes for the Crusaders and it was yet another example of Mo’unga’s quality at this level.
Ultimately, though, it was a round-robin game and the Crusaders judge themselves by much higher standards than that.
Standards established and maintained by that all-conquering pair of Whitelock and Robertson.
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