Never underestimate value of winning culture
July 9, 2014
Nemani Nadolo provides great firepower on the wing © Getty Images
The Crusaders cop a lot of criticism, and I suggested last week in assessing the New Zealand Super Rugby teams that they "don't look like a title-winning team", but, really, you can't fault them; yes, they have the fewest bonus points of the New Zealand sides, but they always turn up at the end of the year with enough points to qualify for the top six. At the end of the day, what more can Todd Blackadder do?
As a coach he gets shafted because someone like Dan Carter has taken a sabbatical - last year, Richie McCaw did the same - and then he loses Kieran Read with concussion worries and injury. But he is still developing new players and bringing them through. And yet poor old Todd gets criticised for the Crusaders not winning finals, but they are still the conveyor belt of New Zealand rugby.
Crusaders 21-13 Blues (Australia only)%]
They are the blueprint for how you develop and manufacture players. They surround them with ex-players who have been there, done that. The Aaron Maugers, Dave Hewetts, Razor Robinsons, Tabai Matsons and Blackadder himself all help to keep the culture alive; they never let that culture die.
I've been part of a winning Auckland culture, but it is not the same Auckland culture now. It's been reinvented, died a few times, but they never kept that winning formula completely alive. That is just something you do not let go. Think of that when you remember the Blues won three Super 12 championships but otherwise have played finals football in only three more seasons. The Crusaders - seven-time champions - might not have won the title since 2008 but they have played finals every season since; they are there or thereabouts every year.
You wouldn't write off the Highlanders in Christchurch this week, but their confidence will be down after the hammering they received at New South Wales Waratahs' hands. And with Dan Carter back - and this happens every year - the Crusaders are timing themselves right for the finals. Colin Slade has had a good season for the Crusaders, but we saw at the weekend that Carter is still a level above; Slade has played well but the guys know this 10 is Dan Carter. The Crusaders also have some firepower with Nemani Nadolo, the way he is playing, and all parts of their game are working well. Players are stepping up as required, and the Crusaders are going to be a side that is tough to beat.
Dan Carter is back in charge of the Crusaders' wheel © Getty Images
The Chiefs look angry and they will have much more to play for than the Blues when they meet in Auckland. The Blues are hanging on but with only the barest of threads. The Blues can talk all they like - and they have for most of the season - but the Chiefs, two-time defending champions, have got more to play for. Again it is back to developing for another year for the Blues.
That said, it's great to see the Blues read ESPNscrum and have finally signed Ihaia West for two years. As we have said all season, why he was not signed before the start of the season is one of the many mysteries surrounding the Blues' thinking. It's all deserved for Ihaia West, and his selection shows that coaches can still glean plenty when they look at the ITM Cup for their players.
That's not a fault the Chiefs have suffered; they have always signed good up-and-coming players, and benefited from that exercise.
Brodie Retallick still has the future in front of him © Getty Images
A classic case is Brodie Retallick. I know I keep saying it, but how good is he going to be when he grows up? He is a world champion. It is all there for him, and we just need to wrap him up and look after him. You could say he is destined for greatness - although it is hard to say it because he hasn't done it yet - but, man, just keep going, keep playing, keep lifting that bar. I'm sure that some of the great locks who have graced New Zealand rugby would be very proud of how he has done. He's the next generation.
The Chiefs will be happy, too, that Aaron Cruden is starting to get back to the level he was at before he broke his left hand. You can't come back from an injury like that and slot right back into your best form. You need a couple of games under the belt, and I think now he is starting to look back to his best and the level where he can compete with Carter.
Meanwhile, it is satisfying to see the team we picked at the start of the season as the one to watch - the Waratahs - have come through and won the minor title. They have got the X-factor through their backline, they've got a solid platform, and Michael Cheika has earned his stripes over in Ireland and round the traps. Cheika is a well-respected coach, and he's done great things this year; he's bonded the team with great talent, and the Waratahs are now a side who bite if you don't treat them with respect.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd