Sunday, April 01, 2012

Crusaders, Lions mingle over a beer in Joburg RICHARD KNOWLER 02/04/2012

Having belted out their victory song the Crusaders walked down the brick-lined corridor inside Ellis Park to share a quick beer with the Lions in their changing shed.
Ellis Park may now be considered a dated stadium by South African standards but it still holds plenty of fond memories for All Blacks fans aware of their rugby history.
The ground, now officially known as Coca-Cola Park after a sponsorship deal, was traditionally the destination where the All Blacks got stuffed by the Springboks in the days where four-test tours were the norm.
So there was heartache for the New Zealanders in 1976, 1970, 1960 and 1949.
The All Blacks' most famous loss was in the World Cup final defeat 15-12 in 1995. And then there was day when the Springboks were allowed back from isolation in 1992 by the International Rugby Board and the All Blacks won the one-off test 27-24 despite a late rally from a team containing famed players such as Naas Botha and Danie Gerber.
Although the All Blacks have not played at Ellis Park since 2004 (they got stuffed 40-26 that day), there is no shortage of New Zealanders floating around the stadium these days.
Former All Blacks John Mitchell and Carlos Spencer are the Lions coaches and former Waikato fullback James Kamana (who had to be carted off in a brace after colliding with Sean Maitland) is also a member of their squad.
As the Crusaders shared a quick drink with the Lions they should have found some common ground.
Mitchell coached Crusaders assistant coaches Dave Hewett and Daryl Gibson when he was All Blacks coach and also played against head coach Todd Blackadder on the provincial scene.
Professionalism has drawn much of the comradeship out of rugby, so it was good to see the Crusaders – even if it was only for about 20 minutes – head towards the Lions sheds and pay their respects.
Nowadays teams often never see each other again after they have walked up the tunnel after the fulltime whistle sounds.
They eat in the changing shed, shower, rehydrate, climb on the bus, get to their hotel and prepare for the next early morning flight.
As the Crusaders returned to their bus at Ellis Park there was a small mob of fans to wave them off, some attempting to get photographs through the windows, others to just screech players' names as if they would then bolt out of their seats and come galloping back down the steps.
The next stop for the Crusaders is at a hotel near Rustenburg for four days before relocating to Pretoria.
It is there that the Bulls will lie in waiting.
Their fans may not be so welcoming.

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