How Scott Robertson is building a dynasty amid the Christchurch rubble

Author
Patrick McKendry, NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Sunday, 5 August 2018, 5:54PM
Scott Robertson break dances after the Crusaders won the 2018 super rugby final (Image / Getty Images)
Scott Robertson break dances after the Crusaders won the 2018 super rugby final (Image / Getty Images)

Such is the temporary state of Christchurch's rugby stadium – eight years old and well past its used-by date – that there was a marquee set up alongside to cater for the grand final media and it was here that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson spoke about building a dynasty after his side won title number nine.

A tent was an incongruous place to deliver such a vision, but appropriate too, probably, in a city used to building jobs.

The lights went out during his talk alongside skipper Sam Whitelock but the pair can see exactly where they are going and that is towards a continued reign of success. Minutes after the Crusaders went "back-to-back" against the Lions, a player told Robertson he was already thinking about a "three-peat".

Once the celebrations eventually die down and life resumes to near normality, you can bet that Robertson will be thinking of little else.

The 43-year-old Robertson is used to winning consecutive championships. He did it with Canterbury and has made the step up to the next level more easily than anyone, apart possibly from him and those closest to him, could have imagined.

Where does this leave every other team in the competition? With a big job to do. This is just sport, as the gracious Lions coach Swys de Bruin said afterwards, and anything can happen, but such is the excellence in performance under Robertson's watch that every other team will have to improve significantly to compete with this Crusaders side – and that has to be good for the competition and game in general.

Most among the crowd of 19,500 stood as one to salute Robertson as he took his seat before the match, and they did the same as he made his way to the pitch with about four minutes remaining in this 37-18 victory.

He is loved here and it's easy to see why; afterwards his jacket covered the grass stains on his shirt from his trademark breakdancing routine, and, hours before kick-off, he was at a suburban rugby ground watching one of his sons play for the Sumner club and happily posed for pictures with members of the opposition Marist Albion club. (I know because in one of them my nine-year-old nephew is standing proudly next to a grinning Robertson, dark sunglasses on, as usual.)

He is loved by those outside the camp and even more by those within it. His mantra was a simple one this week as he prepared his side to defend their title against a Lions team with nothing to lose: work harder for longer than the opposition, and so the Crusaders did, helped by the fact that they were also in possession of more skill, and, probably, a better understanding of the game.

"No possession, no territory against a pretty desperate Lions side. I don't know if we made 1000 tackles but it felt like it," were Robertson's initial thoughts afterwards. "We were on our back fence all night – it was tough to get off it. I'm just glad we won a couple of key moments and scored when we needed to."

The Crusaders' attitude was personified by their defence and the way the pack threw themselves at the Lions' maul before it got a chance to get rumbling. They knew it was crucial they take away the visitors' greatest weapon, but their commitment to stopping it was awe-inspiring at times.

"The boys just stepped up," Whitelock said of the lineout drive. "Not a lot of people enjoy doing it but the boys embraced it tonight."

"Credit to the Crusaders – they had to stop our maul and stop our scrum," Lions skipper Warren Whiteley said. "We had about 70 per cent possession, we really did give it everything … We threw the kitchen sink at them but they're a championship side and they deserve this win."

The Crusaders are used to dynasties. They won the championship three times in a row from 1998-2000 and won it back to back in 2005-06. Robertson has found the magic formula of getting the best out of his All Blacks, and there is a new layer of talent building underneath them. No other team has won more than three. They look very ominous.

They also appear to be genuinely good people. Richie Mo'unga, their star No10, gave his white boots away to a boy, who could be heard later telling his father of his remarkable gift, one that he is unlikely to ever forget.

"We had 16 debutants this year, including for the French Barbarians game, and it meant everyone stepped up," Robertson said. "I'm just really proud – when we had nine All Blacks out and we beat the Chiefs away. We beat the Hurricanes at home and we didn't have our skip or our vice-captain and you have a few guys out of position. Those are the games that you win to give yourselves a chance to win your conference.

"There's a different feeling [this time]. Last year we went over there as underdogs. But we started here as favourites. It's a different feeling – it's relief."

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