Bench the trans-Tasman difference for Crusaders

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The statistics are sobering for Australia’s Super Rugby teams, but Crusaders captain Sam Whitelock says it’s the men sitting on the bench that are making the difference for them.

Round six made it 11 New Zealand wins from 11 starts against Australian sides in 2017, with the last Aussie victory the Waratahs’ win over the Chiefs in May last season.

The Crusaders set a mark of their own, with their 10th win over Australian opponents the longest trans-Tasman stranglehold of any team in Super Rugby history, having not lost to the Aussies since 2015.

Whitelock played down the gulf, the Crusaders having been pushed by their Australian rivals, but said they simply had confidence in the players on their bench.

On Sunday, they had Super Rugby games record holder Wyatt Crockett on the pine, along with 26-Test lock Luke Romano.

“Personally being out there as a player, I wouldn't call it one-sided,” Whitelock said.

“I think you saw tonight and through the other games, there was definitely periods where we’re under pressure. They were ready to come back at us, we saw it last week, they came back and got the win.

“We have to be pretty clever on how we played and smart.

“It's really good having experience coming off the bench and I think that's where for us and myself, trying to lead the team, having those guys come on, they know what they should be doing and it's helping us close out the game.”

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson said the New Zealand teams were once again setting the benchmark.

"Every time you come up against a New Zealand team, you’re being shown the level," he said.

"It’s something for us to aspire to and part of my job is to get that team there. Right now, we’re short of that, we got close but we know exactly what we need to improve."

It’s clear the New Zealand teams are focused on their own tight conference, over their dominance of Australian sides, with Crusaders coach Scott Robertson describing it as a "competition within a competition", as just six points separate the top three teams.

Scott Robertson has been named Crusaders coach. Photo: Getty Images“It's a competition within a competition.

"To win your conference is pretty crucial and where you finish on the log is crucial as well, so we're well aware of it and when you've got the opportunity to finish teams off or get that you have to take them.

“Then at the back end of the season you get yourself in the position to play in front of your home people.”

Though he stayed away from answering the Australia-New Zealand question for fear of "getting in trouble", Crusaders coach Robertson had a sneaky stab at Australia, when asked about the quality of his Australian talent.

The Crusaders had Michael Alaalatoa, brother of Wallabies and Brumbies prop Allan and Melbourne-born Pete Samu in their 23, while Digby Ioane was on the wing.

Ioane’s form has been solid for the Crusaders and Robertson chuckled as he spoke about the wing’s form.

“He's just a quiet achiever but when he says something everyone nods their head and understands what he's about,” he said.

“He’s probably one of the form Aussie wings, isn't he?” - Scott Robertson on Digby Ioane

Robertson was optimistic about an ankle injury to centre Ryan Crotty, with the All Blacks centre expected to only miss two or three weeks.