OPINION: Just before the Highlanders-Hurricanes match, I was bailed up by a passionate female Crusaders fan who told me I was being too harsh on my former team.
It's sadly been a regular theme for me concerning them this season.
Maybe I've been leaning reasonably hard on the Crusaders so far this season.
This fan – and a few others – were letting me know that they were aware of it, and that my comments weren't helping the team.
I know where those fans are coming from. And maybe I'm a hard marker as let's face it I do care about how they go and don't want to come across as biased. But I just told the lady the truth – that I have been stating the obvious.
The Crusaders were fumbling their way through the round robin stages, albeit still winning. Even their most loyal fans must admit they're not their usual rhythmic selves. Why? They've lost their patience. They're panicking and making far too many errors through lack of composure.
And I was saying all of that before the match against the Rebels. It was always going to come unstuck sooner rather than later – and it did in Melbourne.
I don't take any pleasure in pointing that out. In fact, it pains me. I'm a Cantabrian. I want the team to win just as much as the lady who fronted me in Dunedin.
And the blokes running the squad are my mates. I socialise and play squash often with Darryl Gibson and Todd Blackadder and consider them good mates.
But I'll tell you one thing – they know just as well as I do that it's not happening right now. I firmly believe that's why they tried to change things up by tinkering with the starting lineup and leaving the likes of Kieran Read, Andy Ellis and Israel Dagg on the bench.
It wasn't arrogance as some people have suggested. Those guys have had a big workload. So the coaches would have been looking to revitalise a few things with their starting XV.
Unfortunately, Read and Ellis have become such vital cogs in the Crusaders machine that without them the team simply lacked composure. The good news for my lady friend and the Crusaders is that their problems are solvable.
Patience is the key. They're in too much of a hurry to do things. They want to score within six or seven phases, instead of the Crusaders of old who, if necessary, would go 15 to 20 phases in the opposition red zone.
They're pushing too early, trying to get there too quickly. It's not a skill problem, it's an execution one. Take your time and work together with equilibrium.
Ironically, the Rebels did a "Crusaders" on the Crusaders. They won the war of inches, and therefore the war of attrition. They were patient and broke down their opposition.
This year's Crusaders model is trying to get ahead of itself. They need to rediscover their work ethic and patience.
It's a lesson Mark Hammett is driving home at the Hurricanes where he appears to be finding fertile ears within his young squad.
Respect for the ball and doing the little things right are important for the Canes because they typically end up on the wrong end of key statistics.
It was the same against the Highlanders in a cracking game.
THE CANES lost every key stat – possession, territory, minutes with the ball, breakdowns won. But they used what ball they had with maturity. So they were always giving themselves a chance to win the war of attrition this match was always going to deliver.
And then, bang. Julian Savea busts open the match – just like the Canes of old.
Just like I felt this match would be an arm wrestle, I also suspected it would be decided by a burst of individual brilliance. The Canes had more of those individuals. They are a dangerous team, nicely building.
This was the match the Highlanders had to win to keep their season on track.
The TMO didn't help them with a controversial decision and then a blatant foot in touch minutes later when the Canes scored.
Had the Highlanders won, they had every chance of kicking on from here. Now I fear it is a bridge too far. Sadly, Jamie Joseph's side is now in danger of missing the top six playoffs.
- When he's been watching Kurtley Beale playing at first five the last few weeks I wonder if Robbie Deans is thinking the same as me. Accurate passing game, good kicking out of hand and absolutely a threat with ball in hand. Most important though, he can read a game and direct a team. We're looking at the Wallaby No10 on current form.
- One word came to me after Kieran Read's injury-forced exit out of the Crusaders on Saturday night. Scary. Until then I was completely comfortable with the makeup of the ABs' back row. If Read was to go down for a long period, I contemplated who would replace him. Nasi Manu, Victor Vito, Adam Thompson, or Liam Messam possibly? Not at all clear. So do we need to start planning for the worst-case scenario and blood our next best as a specialist and not as a stop-gap?
- So Pat Lam is gone. Totally to blame? No way. There's no doubt he has been let down by players' lack of form and failure to accurately execute game plans. However, he's also not completely blameless and you have to be aware of the perils of coaching. The buck stops with the head coach. Lam has conducted himself with pride and dignity in the way he has fronted this nightmare season. He deserves better and, more importantly, some success to go out on. It's the players' responsibility to make that happen.