Sports

Scotty Stevenson: The Crusaders won’t fear the Ellis Park factor

Home advantage is a very real thing in the history of Super Rugby finals, but the Crusaders don’t mind a road trip, and won’t be worried about being away from home this weekend.

I hate to break it to you, but I can guarantee the Crusaders are completely okay with playing in Johannesburg this weekend. For starters, it’s damn cold in Christchurch. It’s also wet. So wet the AMI pitch probably won’t dry out until February. No one likes it cold and wet, unless you are talking about a beer. Johannesburg, on the other hand, is decidedly warm this time of year and it hasn’t rained there in winter since 1979. It’s just like a tropical paradise, with skyscrapers and hijackings.

Enough about that, though. We were talking about finals and home advantage and all suchlike. For sure, home advantage definitely seems to be a big deal in Super Rugby. In fact, only on five occasions in the 21 years of Super Rugby has an away team had the temerity to ruin the grand final party. The Crusaders ruined an actual party in 1999, ‘The Party At Tony Brown’s Place’, which, by the way remains the greatest name for a Super Rugby final ever. ‘The Fog Final’, used to describe the debacle between the Crusaders and Hurricanes in 2006, absolutely stinks by comparison. Surely ‘What We Mist’ or ‘The Caper in the Water Vapour’ would have been much better.

Yes, out of 21 finals, only five away teams have ever won. The Bulls did it against the Sharks in 2007 and then climbed the goalposts to celebrate. The Highlanders did it against the Hurricanes in 2015 when Marty F—-n’ Banks kicked a dropped goal. And, as you may have guessed by the tenor of this column, the Crusaders have dibs on all the others. In fact, they did it for three consecutive seasons, first against the Blues (‘The Blues Cruise’?) in 1998, then at Tony’s place, and finally in Canberra against the Brumbies in 2000.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson (Photo: Kai Schwoerer/Getty Images)

The Crusaders are the greatest travellers since Captain Cook, before he got what was coming to him. Not only have they thrice rained all over the home side’s parade, they are the only team ever to win a final outside their own nation’s borders. That they somehow stayed awake in Canberra to achieve the feat makes it all the more impressive.

They will have to hurdle a stinking pile of history if they hope to get the win this weekend. No team has ever won a final after crossing the Indian Ocean at any stage of the playoffs. And here we are blaming home town referees and easy draws. The Indian Ocean is the real culprit here. Is there an imaginary Suddenly Shit At Rugby Line that these teams fly through on the way to and from Africa? Kind of like the International Dateline but it’s your form that goes backwards? I dunno, but if any team is going to spring over the stats, it is the Crusaders.

There are those who would claim that 60,000 screaming Lions fans will be too much for the visitors to handle. Please. Anyone who has ever paid a visit to the Cashel Street KFC at 3:00am on a Saturday morning could tell you there are far more intimidating places than a full Ellis Park. Thirty drunk Cantabrians ordering three-piece quarter packs – now that’s frightening. Besides, the Crusaders have lost just once in Johannesburg in the last four games there. Granted, three of those were played in front of a crowd that consisted solely of a couple of guys named Francois who just happened to remember the Lions were still a thing, but still…

Kieran Read and Israel Dagg. (Photo: MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Scream all you like, the Crusaders love a challenge. They are the Crusaders, after all. They are named after a group of pillaging raiders who loved nothing more than picking fights with people in faraway places.

No, the visitors will be fine at Ellis Park, no matter how big the crowd, how hard the field or how hot the day. Scott Robertson has breathed all new life into this team and they feel they have one punch still to throw. Regardless of how thin the air may be on the High Veldt, the Crusaders’ road tripping finals history will provide all the oxygen this team needs.

I just wish there was a word that rhymed with Ackermann. This final deserves a catchy name.


This story originally ran on RugbyPass.com – the premier destination for rugby fans in Asia, streaming International Test Matches including The Rugby Championship, Super Rugby and more to your device wherever you are in Asia

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