By Lee Stace
A LOT of Crusaders fans are probably still scratching their heads today, wondering how their team could not seal the deal against the Reds in last night’s Super Rugby final in Brisbane.
Indeed, all the smart money on both sides of the Tasman in the lead-up to the competition decider at a jam-packed Suncorp Stadium had been on a red and black – oops, I mean a red and grey – victory.
After all, the Todd Blackadder-coached side had been there and done that before and had the best scrum in the competition.
But despite dominating up front and testing the Reds’ defence early on, the Crusaders faded badly in the second half, turning in their worst performance of the season.
A malfunctioning lineout – has Corey Flynn blown his All Blacks aspirations? – uncharacteristic handling error, poor passing and some questionable option-taking all contributed to the seven-time champion’s eventual downfall.
Surprisingly, however, it was All Blacks lynchpins Dan Carter and Richie McCaw who were the biggest offenders when it came to making basic mistakes.
But full credit to the young Reds side, which hung tough early, soaked up the pressure like a heavy-duty sponge and got home on the back of some individual brilliance by pint-sized halfback Will Genia.
Ewen McKenzie has worked wonders transforming this broke and unfashionable team into an outfit that is on the verge of creating a dynasty and must now be the front-runner to be the next Wallabies coach once that dingo Robbie Deans has done his dash.
As for the game itself, it had all the hallmarks of a test match and, just like a fully-fledged international, it was a couple of key moments which ultimately decided the outcome.
But hey, that’s life. You’ve got to take the opportunities that come your way. The Reds took theirs and the Crusaders didn’t.
The much-anticipated Carter v Quade Cooper match-up was a non-event and both turned in performances below their best.
While they failed to lift the silverware, the Crusaders can look back on their 2011 output with great fondness.
Any team that finishes runners-up despite having to play all its matches away from home due to the February 22 earthquake in Christchurch and racks up an astonishing 100,000km while doing so deserves nothing less than respect.
What do you think?
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.