SYDNEY (Reuters) - Todd Blackadder believes his team have all the necessary qualities to emulate the great Canterbury Crusaders teams of the past and bring the Super Rugby trophy back to Christchurch for the eighth time this weekend.
The former All Blacks lock captained the Crusaders to the first three of their seven Super Rugby titles from 1998 to 2000 but is still looking for his first as a coach in his sixth season in the job.
The 42-year-old gets his chance to break that drought against the New South Wales Waratahs at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium on Saturday and thinks his players have shown they have what it takes after turning around a poor start to the season.
“They’ve shown all the fighting characteristics. We’ve been through a lot as a team this year,” Blackadder told reporters at the team hotel on Thursday.
”We haven’t had a dream run at all. We’ve had to work hard for everything that we’ve got and we’ve been written off. But the guys have stuck to it, they’ve worked hard for each other.
“If I look at all the characteristics that you want in a really good Crusaders team, I see it in this team, I definitely do.”
The Crusaders, who started the season with two defeats, have been without flyhalf Dan Carter, captain and number eight Kieran Read as well as totemic flanker Richie McCaw for chunks of the campaign.
All three have returned to the team in time for the playoffs, though, and are among five Crusaders players who played in the last Super Rugby title triumph in 2008, when they beat the Waratahs 20-12 in Christchurch.
“We’ve been in this position before with some of these players but I think this year we’ve also got a lot of good young guys who are hungry and have been doing the yards this year,” Blackadder added.
“So I think experience counts on these big occasions but the want and desire’s got to be there from everyone.”
They came closest to winning an eighth title in the 2011 final when, homeless after the earthquake that destroyed much of Christchurch, they were beaten 18-13 by the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
Blackadder believes that having had a home semi-final against the Sharks and much fewer off-field distractions, his side are much better prepared this time.
”When I reflect on that, we travelled around the world three times,“ he said. ”We played some fantastic football to get to the final and then all the emotions came to a head that week.
”We flew back from Cape Town to Brisbane and we were talking about the earthquake, and it means a lot to all of us.
“And during that game, we just didn’t get our basics right ... and we probably could have been put away by more to be honest.”
The quietly spoken and impeccably polite Blackadder feels the teams are pretty evenly matched and that Saturday’s match would come down to “a few critical moments”.
He also spoke of a general feeling in the squad the Crusaders were improving every week, a sentiment shared by skipper Read.
“We’ll have to be better this week than we were last week and we’ve got to put our best game out there this week if we want to win,” Read said.
Blackadder’s job is probably not on the line in Saturday’s final but the longer the title drought goes on, the more precarious his position.
“I would dearly love to be part of one but I‘m not going to get ahead of myself,” he said.
“You can’t hang your whole life on it.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury