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A bridge too far for the Crusaders

The Reds are worthy winners. They earned the right to a home final, got fantastic support, defended admirably and came up with the big plays at the right time….in just the same way the Crusaders and Bulls had done for the past six years in which they have shared the title.

Ewen McKenzie has achieved much with this team, one he inherited from the rubble of a 93-3 smashing from the Bulls in 2007, which would be without doubt the most spineless capitulation I have seen from a professional rugby team.

And now here they are, four years later, the champions. They have a young side, with a nice mix of brilliance from the likes of Quade Cooper and Will Genia, surely the best halves combo in this year’s competition, as well as a hard edge provided by Scott Higginbotham in particular.

It is Australia’s first Super Rugby title since 2004, just their third in all, so it will give the Aussie game a real boost in World Cup year, although whether that translates to the international stage remains to be seen.

But as Sean Fitzpatrick so often said, full credit to them.

New Zealanders had hoped the Crusaders could come up with one last big game, perhaps for no other reason than to give the people of Christchurch a boost, but even though they couldn’t manage that they can still hold their heads up.

Perhaps they’d played their final in Cape Town. They didn’t use the travel factor as an excuse, and the energy seemed to be there, and so was the will, but for once they were inaccurate. They blew two scoring chances in the second half, their lineout was poor, and they lost a lot of ball in contact.

I was talking to Graham Henry at the All Black team announcement on Sunday and his take on it all was that the travel impacts on different ways, but what tends to happen in such situations is that team management tends to focus so much on trying to get the players' bodies right and “up for the challenge” that it leaves them with little time to actually made a strategic preparation for the match….training sessions are kept brief to avoid any further fatigue, and things get compromised.

Travel is such a huge factor in Super Rugby. The results, especially of the playoff games, tell us that, and maybe some thought could be given to a week off between the semis and the final, in the way they do before the Super Bowl in American football, so as to allow both teams to be capable of producing their best in the final.

It’s just a thought….and no, I am not suggesting it just because a Kiwi team lost! The best team on the night won, and that’s that.

I remember thinking how disadvantaged the Sharks were having to travel all the way to Nelson for a quarterfinal. I guess it’s just highlights how important it is to claim one of the top two places on the log.

The weekend here ended with the naming of the All Black side, which featured few surprises, although a couple of regulars, Sitiveni Sivivatu and Cory Jane, have clearly been put on notice that their form has not been up to scratch. They have been included only as cover while Isaia Toeava and Hosea Gear recover from injuries and will get only a limited chance to show they are worth picking for the World Cup.

Henry has indicated they will be careful with how they manage their players through the Tri-Nations given the amount of stress they’ve been through already in World Cup year, but has no plans to emulate Peter de Villiers.

There’s been an interesting reaction here to the Springbok coach's plan to leave 21 players out of the Australasian leg of the Tri-Nations, with many saying he is boxing smart and doing the right thing by his team. We remember Jake White doing the same thing in 2007.

However there is also some scepticism that some of these players are genuinely injured, and you can’t blame people for that.

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