Bledisloe debut would feel like Crusaders training: Samu

The Rugby Championship
by Iain Payten

In a couple of weeks time, Pete Samu could be wearing gold and going hammer-and-tongs with rivals like Kieran Read, Joe Moody and Sam Whitelock in a Bledisloe Cup debut.

On Saturday, however, Samu will be in red-and-black and calling all of those guys teammates as the Crusaders hunt back-to-back Super Rugby titles in Christchurch.

It will be Samu’s last game for the Crusaders, after the Melbourne boy flew east in 2014 in search of an opportunity and landed at arguably the most dominant rugby club in the world.

Samu debuted in 2016 and has played 32 games for the 8-time Super Rugby champions, but after signing with the Brumbies and making his Wallaby debut in June, the backrower will return to Australia for good next week.

As the only Aussie still playing in Super Rugby (Mike Alaalatoa is on the Crusaders bench but not Wallabies eligible), Samu is even-money to be in Cheika’s first Bledisloe squad for the August 18 clash with the All Blacks in Sydney.

“I haven’t thought too far ahead but it will be quite weird to be on the other side of those (Crusaders) guys actually,” Samu told RUGBY.com.au from Christchurch.

“It will just be like being at training, running against them. Obviously in different colours.

“But honestly, I will leave all that out of my head. I am just focussed on this week and finishing off with a win.”

Samu is a quiet guy but he admitted going about his final preparation with the Crusaders had been emotional. He was named on the bench by coach Scott Robertson.

“It’s been a good week, the boys have been prepping well. Obviously it’s been quite emotional, being my last week here,” Samu said.

"I am making use of my time in my last few days here but yeah, I am mostly just focussing hard on the game and getting ready. The main focus has been the game this week and the rest will probably hit me when the final has gone.”

If the Crusaders were a lesser franchise, complacency might be one of their biggest concerns this week.

The Cantabrians are not only defending champions, they’ve continued to be ruthlessly dominant this season too.

They barely raised a sweat in dispatching the Hurricanes in the semi-finals and they’ll host the final against a Lions team who’ve had to travel all the way from Johannesburg this week after beating NSW in their semi.

Super Rugby history says the Lions have very little chance, and the bookies aren’t even that kind. The Lions are rated $8 outsiders and the Crusaders are at $1.10.

It is painted as a mission impossible for the Lions and a half-secured title for the Crusaders already.

But there is one group of people who don’t buy it - the Crusaders. Mostly because they proved it was possible last year.

 Robertson did his victory break dance in the middle of Ellis Park after the Crusaders downed the Lions on home turf in the final.

 “The game is not won until it is played on the field. Even if the Lions have to travel over from Africa, we know they will prepare well and come out firing on Saturday night,” Samu said.

 “We have to get our house in order and do absolutely everything right or we will get caught out.

 “We have looked at it with the way the Lions have been going, they will come back harder and we have to be prepared for that.”

 Pete samu in action for the Crusaders. Photo: Getty ImagesSamu will finish up at the Crusaders thankful for the experience, and above that, for developing him from a promising club rugby guy into a Test footballer. 

 “The boys turn up every day wanting to get better, and everyone drives that. Everyone feeds off each other. It’s a good culture,” Samu said.

 “They have helped me develop and unlock skills that I didn’t know I had in my game. It brought those skills out and that brought the best of my game.

 “Probably just in terms of reading the game more, and knowing when I can use my strengths.  And a lot around set-piece. I wasn’t really a set-piece guy, I would just get on a scrum and push as hard as you can. But there is definitely a lot more to it than that.

 “So in a whole lot of ways, I have learned a lot from my time here.

 “It definitely played a massive part in bringing me to a point where I could push for an international spot.”

 Samu said his experiences with the Wallabies have helped him return to the Crusaders for his final weeks as a more confident, and better, player.

 “Playing at Test level is definitely different to Super. Having a taste of that and then coming back to playing Super, I think I have enjoyed it more,” Samu said.

 “It has also given me confidence and it also boosts the confidence of the guys I played alongside probably. The boys have a focus on everyone doing their jobs and playing to their potential, and it lets me do that I think. When everyone is playing their best, it makes it easier to play the best I can.”