Sunday, 4 May 2008
Richard McCaw (pictured) has a simple piece of advice for those of his team-mates who might be tempted not to extend themselves beyond the full throttle over the next two weeks.
Remember last year.
While by-standers might attach little importance to the league-topping Crusaders’ final two ties of the round robin, now that home semi-final qualification is assured; the skipper argues that the matches away to the 10th-placed Queensland Reds, and at home against the 11th-placed Highlanders; have become pivotal.
Speaking to Willie Lose on Radio Sport, McCaw said the next two weeks provided the Crusaders with a critical opportunity to build momentum.
“This time last year, we didn’t have it, and that impacted on us in the semi-finals,” McCaw said.
Despite leading the tournament standings for much of the 12th Crusade, back-to-back losses to the ACT Brumbies and the Chiefs saw the Crusaders head into the semi-finals on a downer.
It showed as the side lost 12-27 to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld, to be eliminated at the semi-final stage for the first time in the franchise’s history.
“It did impact on our confidence a little bit, heading over to Pretoria, having lost those last two games,” McCaw said.“This is the time of the competition where you really need positive momentum. By that, I mean you want to be looking to add to your game, and to extend yourself as a team beyond what has already been achieved.”
The Crusaders, who claimed their 10th success from 11 matches in hard fought fashion during Friday night’s 18-10 win over the Sharks, have the opportunity to build on that as they head to Brisbane to face the Reds.
While Queensland fell 22-35 at home to the Blues last Friday night, and has won just three and claimed a draw from 11 so far in the competition, McCaw knows the task that is waiting for his team at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night won’t be insignificant.
“They’re never easy over there,” McCaw warned.“We’ve had some really tough times when we’ve had to play them away in the past.”
Although the Crusaders have won on each of their last five visits to the SunshineState; a run which started with the upset 28-22 win in a 1999 semi-final, the games have seldom been one-sided.
Prior to the Crusade’s most recent visit in 2006, the team’s biggest winning margin in Brisbane was eight, from the 27-19 success in 2000.
Two years ago, the Crusaders seemingly coasted home 47-21, but that scoreline doesn’t accurately portray a game that was actually much more closely fought, with the Reds leading 14-11 at halftime before a late collapse blew the score out.
Regardless of what the Reds may or may not bring to the table this time, McCaw is demanding more consistency, and a continuation in the upward curve of his own side’s performance, after the Crusaders were guilty of putting themselves under unncessary pressure at times against the Sharks.
“We had a good first 20 minutes and created a lot, but we didn’t take our opportunities as well as we probably should have, and that let them back into the game,” McCaw told Radio Sport.
As a result, the Crusaders led just 13-10 at halftime, and were even minus their captain for the first nine minutes of the second half as they battled in conditions that McCaw described as “the most atrocious” he had experienced in his playing career.
“We knew that we had to be disciplined playing into the wind and rain,” he said.“Fortunately we showed a level of patience that hadn’t always been there in the first half. That allowed us to secure some vital turnovers at key times.”
So, the Crusaders eventually earned a pass mark, although McCaw was not prepared to give himself the big tick, publicly acknowledging the error which led to his 39th minute sin-binning for illegally playing the ball in a tackle.
“I got it a little bit wrong, going in from the side,” McCaw confessed to Radio Sport.“I was probably just a little bit angry that the guy had initially got passed me!”
The captain has learned his lesson.
The next two weeks may tell us whether the Crusaders, as a team, have learned theirs!