By RICHARD KNOWLER - The Press
OPINION: It wasn't quite a scene out of Apocalypse Now, although the Highlanders may have wondered if they had wandered into an ambush in the first 20 minutes.
Before the Crusaders confronted the Highlanders on Saturday night a military helicopter swooped in to the tune of Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, the musical score that accompanied the half-baked Colonel Kilgore's aerial attack on a Viet Cong village in Francis Ford Coppola's movie.
It was dramatic stuff, all part of the entertainment package to reward the 23,000 fans who rolled up for the Crusaders' Super 14 opener.
In keeping with the movie theme the Crusaders launched their own raids as they hogged 71 per cent of the possession in the first quarter and the Dan Carter-led backline exploited their opponents by moving the ball wide; it was attractive stuff, a welcome change from last year when the backline was as much fun as watching muscovy ducks feeding on acorns.
If this is the sort of stuff the Crusaders of 2010 are going to offer, let's have more of it.
Sure, they dozed off after Jared Payne scored their second try early in the second half and the Highlanders fought back from 15-0 down to trail 18-17, but their attacking zeal returned when Zac Guildford and Sean Maitland crossed the paint for the crucial four-try bonus point.
This is what the Crusaders need if they are to get the fans back to their citadel, and few who watched this encounter would have returned home disappointed. It is too early to say the Super 14 is in the throes of a renaissance and some fixtures will always be lemons as the players and referees collectively have dud performances. But the signs are encouraging.
Although the changing of breakdown interpretations by the referees has resulted in the attacking teams winning more favours and could threaten their opponents' ability to launch counter-attacks – and just how tackled-ball burglar Richie McCaw will adjust in this area will be interesting when he returns in round four – both sides at AMI Stadium were willing to keep the ball in hand and stress opponents' defences.
While the Crusaders played their part in trying to get more bums on seats for the next home match against the Sharks on February 26, the administrators pulled off their biggest masterstroke at fulltime.
And as a marketing ploy, it is so ridiculously inexpensive; it did not involve any flying machines, fireworks, cheerleaders or some talking head jabbering into a microphone. All it required was an instruction to the security staff to lift a few latches off the gates and allow the fans to mingle with the players and seek autographs.
The concept is so simple that you have to wonder why it was ever canned in the first place.
The Crusaders are feverish to win back fans, to generate goodwill in their game and are eager for this to continue.
But their hands are tied; Vbase, as the venue management firm, call the shots.
If they are serious about promoting the Crusaders, their venue and Christchurch ahead of the World Cup, Vbase will make the correct decision.