Thursday, February 14, 2008

Season Preview 2008 - Regaining the Momentum,111,2571,0,html/Season-Preview-2008-Regaining-the-Momentum

For most teams, making the semi-finals after having six of the best players sidelined for half of the competition; would still represent a pretty fair effort.

And the Crusaders performance in 2007 was.

For many reasons, it was arguably as significant an achievement as anything that had gone before.

But the Crusaders are no ordinary team.

In the Super rugby realm, they are the kings, with six titles from the competition’s first 12 years.

For that reason; a semi-final finish is below the extraordinary high expectations that are set for the side every year.

Because of that, this year’s 13th Crusade could prove unlucky for a good many of the side’s opponents as the team sets out in quest of its own seventh wonder.

The circumstances surrounding the 2008 campaign have already been given an emotional injection by the news that two of the team’s longest-serving stalwarts – coach Robbie Deans and indestructible flanker Reuben Thorne – are on their last laps with the side.

For Deans, a much deserved shot at international rugby – unfortunately with the Wallabies as opposed to the All Blacks – awaits, after his 12-year contribution as a Crusader finally ends.

Thorne, who starts the year as the most capped Crusader with 121 appearances and climbing, is destined for the Yamaha club in Japan where he should close out his glorious 13-year representative playing career experiencing something new.

Although both men personify the Crusaders’ selfless ethic and humbly deflect any attention away from their impending departures; the collective esteem with which they are held will ensure that the rest of the group go that extra mile in order to make sure that their last dance is successful.

Then there’s the small matter of last year’s national union-sponsored ‘intervention’ which denied the Crusaders of six key leaders, and the players concerned of much needed match play and hardening, prior to the mid stages of the competition.

Everyone associated with the side – from its playing staff through to the supporters – are looking forward to a much less complicated formula for the 2008 campaign.

It will need to be, as the Southern Hemisphere landscape has changed significantly in the last 12 months.

Never give a sucker an even break is the way the saying goes – and the South Africans certainly took full advantage of the ‘break’ that was offered.

In the absence of the conditioning All Blacks, the South African momentum and belief grew to the point where it became irresistible.

The statistics don’t lie: 14 matches played by New Zealand teams in South Africa during the last competition for just one win, the Crusaders’ success in Bloemfontein.

Not only did the South African belief manifest itself in an all-South African finale to the competition; it also came back to haunt at the Rugby World Cup, where the Springboks made no race of the tournament once the All Blacks no longer barred their way!

So 2008 is all about swinging the momentum – both at Super rugby level, and internationally – back across the Indian Ocean.

The Crusaders will get any early chance to dent South African egos, squaring off against new champions, the Bulls, in front of a full house at Loftus Versfeld in round two.

That contest already has massive connotations for both teams – and both countries – adding to the importance of the momentum that can be gained by starting the campaign off with a win on Friday night against the ACT Brumbies.

To download the 2008 Crusaders screensaver

and don't forget
Super 14 2008 season starts this Friday at the AMI stadium at 7.30pm (local time)

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