Sunday, March 25, 2012

Stadium built fast but Crusaders need more time  JUSTIN MARSHALL 26/03/2012

OPINION: The fact that I suffered house problems and decided to move my family and life away from Christchurch in the aftermath of last year's earthquakes has always felt inconsequential compared with the plight of hundreds of others.
So much so that I hardly mention or dwell on it, and had it not been for the fact I am struggling to find the right words to describe what happened in Christchurch on Saturday night – something I'm loath to label a mere rugby game – I certainly would not have felt compelled to write about it.
There was a magical undertone and unique atmosphere at the match, and I could not help but marvel at the resilience of Christchurch – again – and wonder, as I was walking into the brand-spanking new facility, how I would have handled such a poignant occasion had I been playing.
The answer as it turns out tapped me on the shoulder in one of those serendipitous moments.
Crusaders wing Sean Maitland arrived at the ground at the same time and we had a bit of a chat. He spoke about the bye week that consisted of golf and what Sean described as an "enjoyable few days", and I was encouraged by how relaxed yet focused he was on the task ahead.
During the week I was in Hong Kong and played some rugby with Maitland's former team-mate, Stephen Brett, who ironically had been regaling me with stories of conquests over Sean on the golf course. I thought better of telling Sean this and I thought he went on to play impressively.
When the teams came out I was convinced the Crusaders would smash the Cheetahs, such was the resolve in their eyes. It wasn't to be. The Crusaders lacked the key ingredient which has served their two main rivals in the New Zealand conference so well this year.
Patience is the ingredient which the Hurricanes seem to have in abundance and proved the defining difference in their thrilling victory over the Blues on Friday night.
It's hugely edifying to see a team make the most of its talent and provide a platform and great rugby education for the likes of Beauden Barrett.
Had Barrett played in a team packed with stars, he would have struggled to find his feet so fast.
But being a cog in his team's wheel, albeit a rather important one, has set him on a pathway towards a high level of consistency.
As soon as the Crusaders start to gain some patience and some composure – as I have said in previous weeks they are just trying too hard at the moment for their own good – I think they are going to really punish teams.
They are well below where I think they should be but are still picking up enough competition points to keep them in touch with the rest of the New Zealand conference.
Look out when they gel but it needs to happen sooner rather than later or the moment may very well have passed.
On a final note, I'd like to wish Colin Slade all the best for his recovery. What has that kid done to deserve such rotten luck? His dreadful run of injuries is starting to remind me of the ill-fortune Jonny Wilkinson endured after the 2003 World Cup.
Jonny, in my opinion, never fully regained his confidence to take on contact as a result, and I hope this latest major injury is not playing on Slade's mind as was the case with Wilkinson.
Slade was starting to regain his composure after last year's bad tidings and starting to attack the line. He's a good player and my only hope is he makes a speedy recovery and can put his bad luck behind him.
It's a big blow for the Highlanders and a real test of their depth.

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