Crotty hails defensive effort

Ryan Crotty won't need a pot of pumpkin soup to ward off the freezing cold where he is going.

Steam billowed from the mouth of Crusaders second five-eighth Crotty on Saturday night as he discussed the upcoming Super Rugby final against the Lions in Johannesburg next Sunday morning (NZT), a small cup of soup nestled in his hand as he tried to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures at AMI Stadium.

An afternoon kick-off at Ellis Park should ensure the Crusaders won't have to reach for the soup ladle next week; plus, they should have a dry ball to operate with against the Lions, although they certainly proved efficient in the chilly conditions and were able to function without possession when they slugged the Chiefs 27-13 in their semifinal in Christchurch.

From the moment they trudged back to their hot showers and warm drinks, the Crusaders began thinking about the final. Celebrations were muted, despite outscoring the Chiefs by four tries to one with only 33 per cent of possession.

"We have kind of got our eyes are on the next job already," Crotty said. "The boys are pretty proud; it was a massive effort. We have played two of the best teams in the comp in the last two weeks and they have not been easy games by any stretch of the imagination."

Having beaten the Highlanders 17-0 in the quarterfinal in Christchurch, the Crusaders hoped to remain at home for a third consecutive weekend, but those dreams were dashed when the Lions surged back in the second half to thump the Hurricanes 44-29 in their semi at Ellis Park.

Things moved pretty swiftly from there.

The Crusaders briefly mingled with the Chiefs players, before attending a team function with friends and family. Then it was home to await the outcome of the Lions-Hurricanes game. At 3am they got a text to say they were to get ready to go to Christchurch Airport to start the long trek to Johannesburg.

Coach Scott Robertson will take a squad of 25 to South Africa. All players, including No 8 Kieran Read and tighthead prop Owen Franks, travelled. The squad includes the 23 who played the Chiefs, as well as tighthead prop Oli Jager and utility back Tim Bateman.

Read left the field in the final minutes of the semi because he had "tweaked" a knee, and will be monitored ahead of the final. Franks was replaced by Mike Alaalatoa at halftime because of a sore Achilles tendon.

The 70,000-capacity Ellis Park was hardly stacked with fans for the Canes-Lions game, around 27,000 Lion supporters were in attendance, but a much bigger mob is expected to give the Crusaders the verbals in the final.

The travel schedule and having to play at 1700m above sea level means Robertson and his management will have to carefully manage their players in the upcoming days.

Given the players will arrive in South Africa with their bodies still aching from that magnificent defensive effort against the Chiefs, it will be paramount that they are given every opportunity to recover.

For men such as Crotty, it will be a chance to win his first title. Only Wyatt Crockett, Bateman and Read were in the Crusaders team that last snared the crown in 2008.

Crotty played in the side that lost in dramatic circumstances to the Waratahs in the 2014 final in Sydney, but said that demon had been buried.

"That is well and truly in the past," he said in reference to that gutting defeat. "This is a different group of men. We are on our own journey this year … we would have been very disappointed to lose tonight."

Robertson noted the Crusaders made in excess of 200 tackles in the victory over the Chiefs, with openside flanker Matt Todd clocking-up 22 in a fine individual effort.

"We have given ourselves another Monday," Crotty emphasised. "To play like the way we did, to hold them out for the majority of the game, just to compete for everything. Really proud.

"It took us a wee bit to adapt to the conditions, they weren't as bad as we anticipated. They were pretty good for handling. At halftime we said if we can counter (attack) back to the 50, let's hold the ball.

"Let's try and retain a bit of possession and see how effective we can be. But both times were pretty solid defensively, it kind of came down to moments and opportunities that we managed to take."



Photo: PHOTOSPORT (Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty tries to brush past Chiefs fullback Damian McKenzie during the 27-13 victory in the Super Rugby semifinal at AMI Stadium).