Robertson’s shadow hovers over Foster after Crusaders’ Aotearoa triumph

Rugby

“It’s a celebration with curfews tonight.”

That was Scott Robertson’s assessment of how his side would mark an astonishing fourth straight title, a seemingly apt approach given it has not come in the same fashion as their previous three.

Sunday’s 32-22 win over the Highlanders in front of a full house at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch was in no way the Crusaders at their best. They were, truth be told, well below that mark as the Highlanders produced one of their best performances of Super Rugby Aotearoa by rattling the Crusaders in defence, continually picking off turnovers at the breakdown and also punishing their hosts’ errors.

Yet it was just another example of how anything other than the complete 80-minute performance is seldom going to be enough to beat Robertson’s side, who added the fledgling Super Rugby Aotearoa title to their three Super Rugby proper triumphs of 2017, ’18 and ’19.

Before Robertson’s arrival at the start of 2017, the Crusaders had been title-less for 10 years.

Who knows when the floodgates might close now?

The Crusaders’ triumph in Super Rugby Aotearoa has shone the spotlight on two hot topics in New Zealand rugby. Firstly, that this tournament, for all its unrivalled entertainment and intensity, has been decided with one round to play.

Unlike Super Rugby and Super Rugby AU, New Zealand Rugby opted not to include a final series when they created the tournament amid the coronavirus crisis. Given the amount of injuries and the continual discussions around player workload and safety, many have argued it was indeed the right call.

But it also means that the final round has lost some of its lustre, no matter how much the Blues might want to prove a point by ending a long run of outs against their great rivals next Sunday afternoon.

Keeping his break-dancing shoes on ice for another week, it will however be a fresh challenge for the all-conquering Robertson as he seeks to bring his players up for one last Crusaders effort in 2020.

“They’re [the Blues] waiting and we were really mindful; that’s the awkwardness of winning it as we’ve done,” Robertson told Sky Sport after the win over the Highlanders. “We understand what Liverpool went through when they took the trophy early…what’s your next performance like? So that’ll be our focus from tomorrow.”

Robertson’s reference to the Premier League winners is an indication of just how schooled up he is as a coach of one of the world’s great sporting teams, this latest triumph perhaps elevating him even higher given the outstanding quality of Super Rugby Aotearoa.

There have been no easy games.

And it has seemingly only increased the pressure on Ian Foster to deliver when he first puts an All Blacks side on the paddock as head coach later this year.

There were plenty in New Zealand who thought Robertson should have got the job ahead of Foster, that the All Blacks could use a change in direction after they were well beaten by England in last year’s Rugby World Cup semifinals when Foster was acting as Steve Hansen’s assistant.

But instead Robertson was overlooked, a decision that also did not, according to an anonymous poll conducted earlier this year, sit well with a majority of New Zealand’s professional players.

Country Sport Breakfast producer Sam Casey asked 40 questions to a group of “over 100 players” that ranged from senior All Blacks to Super Rugby newcomers. The first question asked: “Did the NZRU get it right with their All Black coaching group?”

Almost half (46 percent) said they believed NZ Rugby didn’t get the decision right, while 26 percent said they were “happy with Ian Foster but not the assistant coaches”.

The poll certainly ruffled a few feathers in New Zealand, this latest Crusaders’ title adding weight to those who were firmly in Robertson’s camp.

For his part, the former All Blacks back-rower can only go up to Auckland next Sunday and ensure his side rounds out Super Rugby Aotearoa with a win over a Blues side desperate to defeat them.

Only then might he celebrate by busting a move.

“We haven’t finished the job yet, so there’ll be another time for that,” he said as the crowd willed him to mark another title in customary Razor fashion.

A running man, windmill and backspin next Sunday might also give way to a quiet moment of reflection that Robertson can do little else to get the All Blacks job. And that his Crusaders are one helluva rugby team.

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