The emotional rollercoaster the Crusaders have been on over the past three weeks cannot be underestimated, and given the number of All Blacks in the squad, coach Steve Hansen could have a job this week bringing them back down to earth.
Hansen will tomorrow name his 33-man squad for the Rugby Championship and the All Blacks‘ first assignment is a Bledisloe Cup test against Australia in Sydney a week on Saturday. It will be the Wallabies‘ best chance of a victory over their old foe, and after they won their last meeting in Brisbane last year, confidence will be high.
The All Blacks squad will assemble in Christchurch tomorrow for a training camp, which will include a trial including players from Canterbury and Otago at AMI Stadium on Friday.
Few of the Crusaders will be involved in that but, with the bulk of the starting pack coming from the Crusaders, plus midfielder Ryan Crotty and possibly Jack Goodhue, the franchise will make up the lion‘s share of the squad and will be expected to quickly switch into test mode.
Crotty, a hugely important part of the Crusaders backline, and, with Sonny Bill Williams out injured, a key All Black too, spoke of his emotions after the grand final victory over the Lions.
“We‘ve had such a special journey and we‘ve played such tough games,” he said. “We have such a tight group. It was a massive effort and it‘s nice to send off a few Crusaders players the way they should be sent off.
“I‘m looking forward to spending a few days celebrating what we‘ve achieved.”
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The Crusaders will farewell right wing Seta Tamanivalu to French club rugby and the retiring prop Wyatt Crockett. It‘s fair to say the celebrations will be long and loud, and so they should be after the Crusaders defended their title.
And there will also be some sore bodies. The Crusaders were forced to make 180 tackles against the Lions, with flanker Matt Todd making an extraordinary 30 by himself. It all adds up to a balancing act for Hansen, who won‘t be able to go too hard too early as far as his red and black players are concerned.
“There was a lot of emotion around the group so we had to be careful not to be too hot-headed or let that influence us on the field,” Crotty said. “We needed to be calm and execute. I think we did that and I think our emotion showed in how we defended.
“The Lions really nailed the tactical side of things. We had to defend. But over the last three weeks we‘ve trended towards our defence – that‘s what wins finals and the attitude around that tonight was unreal.
“We probably didn‘t plan on making 180 tackles. We probably planned on holding the ball a bit more. They dominated territory and possession in that first half.”
Crotty spent 10 minutes in the bin in the second half for kicking the ball out of a Lions‘ ruck – he said he wasn‘t sure what he was carded for until he got to the sideline. He was compelled to repay his side when he re-joined the match and he and his side were roared home by a capacity crowd.
“Here in Christchurch that was the best crowd I‘ve played in front of by a mile. Man you could hear them and I think the guys took inspiration from that.
“I‘ve been here 10 years and never played a final at home. It‘s really special to play in front of your family and friends. It‘s nice to get the job done in front of them.”