By GREG FORD - Sunday Star Times
When A certain rugby league club owner stunned the sporting world last year by rabbiting on about how much his beloved South Sydney side "loved" each other, the sporting world collectively reached for a bucket, then thought better of it, instead making Russell Crowe the butt of endless jokes.
Never again we thought. Sport is not a place for man love. How wrong we were.
The L-word is back, this time in macho rugby union.
A stunned group of reporters gathered under Waikato Stadium on Friday night to hear Crusaders coach and hardman Todd Blackadder wax lyrical about the intestinal fortitude of his team, when he said: "It is one of the hallmarks of our game, the will and love for each other, that they keep standing up when under pressure.
"The Chiefs showed how dangerous they are when you give them a little bit of space. They break the line and that has not happened to us lately which means we need to tighten up our defence even more."
Fair to say also that the reaction to Blackadder's comments won't make anywhere near the same number of headlines Crowe's did, not least because big Todd's ardour was well-intentioned, despite being expressed in a way that won't sit comfortably with his drinking buddies out Glenmark way.
This year's Crusaders looks a tight unit, and when their backs are against the wall, they do what Blackadder did best in his playing day, dig deep.
Richie McCaw's combination with George Whitelock on the flanks is flourishing, Brad Thorn is coming into some form at lock, they have a handy front row with Owen Franks making small steps towards cementing himself as an international class prop.
Then we come to the backs. Zac Guildford has formed a neat combination with Dan Carter, ghosting on to the All Black pivot's shoulder at all the right times. Centre Robbie Fruean is a beast of a man, making the most of his size and strength, leaving car wrecks in his wake.
No wonder Blackadder's passion were stirred after the 26-19 win. There's a lot to like, and he confirmed as much, on Friday night.
"I am extremely pleased with our guys. It was an outstanding performance well led by Richie [McCaw]. I am really proud of our team because it was a tough game and tough conditions and looked fairly physical from where I was sitting."
Ian Foster could only nod in agreement. The Chiefs coach lost his talismanic loose forward Liam Messam in the first few minutes of the match. And such is the esteem he's held in, Foster was counting his blessings his side now has a bye this weekend giving Messam more time to recover from what has been diagnosed as a severely bruised hip.
"We all hate losing but for a team that was put under a lot of pressure we hung in their for large periods of the game," he said.
However, the Chiefs will have to pay urgent attention to their unstable set piece; something Foster conceded would be a top priority for his team when they regroup after a short break.
"We have to keep trucking really [at set piece time]. We have performed pretty well but we have lost experience in that area.
"We are learning a few lessons and are not as settled as we might be," said Foster.