By Wynne Gray
4:00 AM Tuesday May 11, 2010
When the Crusaders last failed to make the Super semifinals, their 2001 demise was started by the Brumbies.
It was some bollicking, too, as the Canberra champions started their title march with a 51-16 victory against a side captained by Todd Blackadder, including Daryl Gibson and Chris Jack with a substitute appearance from Brad Thorn.
They are still around this season. Blackadder and Gibson have switched to coaching roles. Others in the squad that season, Mark Hammett and Dave Hewett are also on the technical staff, while Richie McCaw is a centurion and captain.
This Friday, in the final round of this Super series, the Brumbies stand between the Crusaders and the semifinals.
The Brumbies have evergreen flanker George Smith from that match nine years ago but there appears little chance centre Stirling Mortlock will recover from a long-term back problem. Forwards from that game, Owen Finegan and Bill Young, are involved in coaching the pack.
This sudden-death clash starts the last-round action with the following game in Sydney between the Waratahs and Hurricanes, also a winner-takes-all match.
In Blackadder's debut coaching season last year, the Crusaders edged out the Waratahs on points differential for the fourth qualifying place. It was a twitchy moment for the Crusaders although they had the luxury of qualifying even though they lost to the Highlanders. They do not have that leeway on Friday.
First though, they have to recover from jetlag, the plane trip home from South Africa and three successive defeats.
"I think we are all feeling a bit 'spacey'. It has been a tough day 'cos we only got home about midnight," hooker Ti'i Paulo said. "Most of us find it tougher coming home because we had a stopover in Perth heading there.
"Whatever, we have to get over it fast."
The Brumbies have not made the playoffs since 2004 and coach Andy Friend has told his squad that success would depend on their attitude.
They have had inconsistent results this season and there have been strong noises about internal ructions.
"It will be a really tough game, but we have already spoken in the dressing room about it and that our destiny is in our own hands," Friend said.
"To be good enough to stay in the top four, we have to win that game. It is tough to win this competition and you have to win those games. It will be a real litmus test for us."
Both teams have reported fit squads with the Brumbies' utility back Julian Huxley off the injured roster.
Blackadder was disappointed his side had failed to collect a win on their tour but liked the way they built their last game against the Bulls.
"We did wonder where our form was for a while so the comforting thing was that performance in Pretoria," he said. "But we have to back it up. I thought we got stronger as the game went on and we have no injuries and are in great shape for this game."