WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Jul 4 – Helping to heal a devastated city has become a motivating factor for the Canterbury Crusaders as Super Rugby’s most successful side prepare for a showdown with the Jaguares, the season’s success story.
The Christchurch-based Crusaders are bidding for a third successive title and their 10th overall while the Jaguares have reached the final in only their fourth year in the southern hemisphere competition.
“They’re good,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said Thursday after naming his team for Saturday’s season climax between two sides brimming with internationals.
“We’re really impressed with their quality of play, their variation in their style of attack. They rank really highly in all the stats, defensively they’re second in the comp, they’ve got a lot of international experience. They’re on a roll.”
But the Crusaders have homeground advantage and even more impressive statistics, being equal with the Jaguares on defence while leading the way for tries scored and clean breaks.
Although the Jaguares have won their last seven games, coach Gonzalo Quesada downplayed talk of a history-making final victory and the relevance of statistics.
“We are trying to keep the team a little bit away from that picture of what’s happening concerning that history thing,” he said.
“It’s great, it’s amazing, but I think it can distract us from what we should have the focus on now — that is to keep on trying with lots of humility to improve our game.
“Whenever we talk about the history of the points, or the statistics that are quite interesting … but we have to be careful because that can make us lose focus.”
Quesada has strengthened his front row with Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro starting at prop while Marcos Kremer resumes his openside flanker role and Ramiro Moyano will start on the left wing.
On the bench, he has also brought back the 36-year-old veteran Juan Manuel Leguizamon ahead of an expected titanic forward battle.
For the Crusaders, 23-year-old Mitchell Dunshea replaces injured lock Scott Barrett while new All Black Braydon Ennor will partner Jack Goodhue in the centres with Ryan Crotty sidelined by a broken thumb.
The two teams avoided each other in the regular season when the Crusaders finished top of the table with the Jaguares heading the South African conference.
When the Jaguares despatched the ACT Brumbies in the semi-finals last week they dominated, except for in the scrum, which would not have gone unnoticed by the Crusaders.
Similarly, the Jaguares would have taken note of Crusaders’ errors around the ruck and defensively in the midfield.
“Mostly finals are won off great defence,” Robertson said, adding the Crusaders had concentrated this week on taking the emotion out of the occasion and focusing on performance.
– Latin passion –
But while he has quelled the Crusaders’ emotion, Robertson is in awe of how the Jaguares use their Latin passion for inspiration.
“The passion and emotion they bring I think is a danger. If they come out and play with that energy, which is great and I enjoy that Latin expression that they bring, they’ll be emotional, they’ll be up for it, and they’ll be dangerous,” he said.
The Crusaders’ key motivator is helping the recovery of a city that was stunned less than four months ago when a gunman opened fire in two mosques and killed 51 Muslims.
“There’s been a lot of adversity for us as a team and as a city,” Robertson said.
“One thing we’ve done, and I’m really proud of, is every time we’ve played we’ve showed how much we care about (the city) and care about each other.”
Eight years ago the Crusaders were beaten finalists after being forced to play every game away after a destructive earthquake, which killed 185 people.
Captain Sam Whitelock believes a title this year will be a significant boost for Christchurch.
“I think it would,” he said, adding that the effort of the players would be evident in “the little things you can see as a player and hopefully the city and our whole region can see as well”.