DAN GILHOOLY AND RICHARD KNOWLER - Stuff with NZPA
Richie McCaw has stepped into the breach to ensure the Crusaders have a flight to Wellington to play the Hurricanes.
With thousands of passengers stranded across the country after Air New Zealand cancelled flights this morning due to an ash cloud from Chile's volcano, the Crusaders were staring at the prospect of driving and ferrying to the capital.
However, All Blacks captain and aviation enthusiast McCaw, in his capacity as patron of the DC3 Southern Trust, has initiated a DC3 being made available to fly his Super Rugby team north.
No more than 28 Crusaders players and coaches will fill the historic plane tomorrow morning ahead of the crucial fixture on Saturday night. The slow flight will take an hour and 40 minutes.
The rest of team management are to drive, carrying the team's gear.
The plane, which made its first flight in 1944, was able to operate safely in the current conditions over New Zealand because it flew below 10,000 feet (3048 metres) and had a conventional propeller engine, rather than a jet engine like a commercial aircraft.
McCaw is a qualified pilot and is legally allowed to fly the plane but DC3 Southern Trust flight operations manager Rodney Hall said he couldn't on this occasion as the plane would be carrying fare-paying passengers - his team-mates.
The Southern DC3 plane, which is based at the Ashburton Aviation Museum and is used sporadically for airshows and scenic flights, was operating today, carrying a small number of passengers between Christchurch and Wellington.
The Crusaders' involvement came about through a happy coincidence when McCaw and Hall crossed paths this morning.
Hall said he was walking his dog past the Crusaders' training ground in Christchurch just before the team were to have a meeting to discuss travel options.
"Richie and I both thought the same thing at the same time. It was impeccable timing really and it's just great to get these guys out of a hole," Hall said.
"I'm more than happy we can help them and I know Richie's excited to be able to do something like this for the team. They're our local team and he's our patron, the weather's perfect and it's a unique situation so it's all come together."
"Nothing ceases to amaze this year,'' Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder said after today's final training.
"Captain Richie McCaw came through for us with his ties with the DC3 Trust. It (flight) may take a little longer but it's a better alternative then the bus and ferry. It's another good chapter in a very interesting season.''
Blackadder said the Crusaders, third on the Super 15 table and looking to book a home semifinal in Nelson, were concentrating solely on what they wanted from the game and not on the turmoil in the Hurricanes camp caused by Blackadder's former Crusaders assistant, Mark Hammett, axing All Blacks, Ma'a Nonu and Hurricanes captain Andrew Hore.
"I don't care about that to be honest. It's all about us making sure that we turn up ready to perform. I know they've got a lot going on in their (Hurricanes) camp but that's not our concern. We've got a win we want to get our hands on and we want to put on a good performance and get our season back on track.
"While we've been playing well and winning there have been some not very good performances where we haven't really met the targets and performance standards that we're used to setting. We need to be more clinical and accurate,'' Blackadder said.
"I think it is more of a mindset for the players, more about making better decisions when we're on attack. We're working hard then releasing a lot of pressure. We need to make sure we can hold onto the ball for longer periods and ask more questions of the defence.''
Blackadder said after reviewing the 23-16 win against the Blues last Saturday, he thought the Crusaders had dodged a bullet. "While we were good and did some things really well we weren't clinical and that was a hangover from the Reds game where we had our chances.''
Crusaders No 8 Kieran Read, who will captain the Crusaders in the absence of the injured McCaw, said the flight would be yet another unusual experience for the Crusaders in a year when they've been forced to play all their games outside Christchurch due to the February earthquake.
"There has been a few surprises this year and it is definitely better than a bus ride or a train and a ferry," he said.
"It will be a good story to tell in a few years time, especially if we can stay on task this week in what we want to achieve this weekend."
What shaped as a problematic weekend of travel for Super Rugby teams in New Zealand has been largely resolved.
The cancellation of flights in Australia and New Zealand led to SANZAR concerns about three other teams - namely the Highlanders and Reds - not being able to travel.
However the Highlanders, who face the Blues on Friday night, will travel on a charter flight to Auckland this afternoon.
In Australia, the Reds departed for Auckland this morning en-route to Hamilton for their match against the Chiefs on Saturday.
"We are relieved at this stage to have resolved these issues," said SANZAR CEO Greg Peters. "Obviously until all teams are where they need to be for this weekend's games we will continue to monitor the situation".
"This has been the second major disruption to Super Rugby after the Christchurch quake earlier this year and it has again provided us with a big challenge as we were dealing with matters beyond our control."