The Crusaders will be steeled for an emotional eighth Super Rugby crown by the fans still recovering from February’s deadly Christchurch earthquake, All Black Brad Thorn said Friday.
The New Zealanders have been driven this season to win the southern hemisphere provincial championship as a morale boost for those who survived the 6.3-magnitude quake that killed 181 and left much of the city uninhabitable.
They take on Australia’s Queensland Reds in Saturday’s Super Rugby final as sentimental favourites and backed by the bookies to win.
“It’s been a big 10 months back there (in Christchurch). I feel a responsibility — there’;s more to this game,” Crusaders lock Thorn told reporters.
“In the past when I’ve played grand finals its been about the team and you share it with the fans as well. This time I really feel this is something for the people back there.
“I know this is something that would be very special for them. I imagine it will have a great impact,” Thorn said.
The Crusaders have been forced to travel more than 100000km during their indomitable run to the final after the Christchurch earthquake rendered their home ground unplayable.
The Red and Blacks have dominated the 16 seasons of Super Rugby, with seven championships, and are now in their tenth final and on the cusp of what would prove to be their most poignant triumph of all.
Thorn said he had been inspired by the people back home and the Crusaders’ team had been moved by the messages of support ahead of Saturday’s decider.
“You’ve got the elderly, mums at home by themselves. You just feel so proud of those people back there,” he added.
“I think they really love the fact we’ve been on the road the whole time, that we’ve had injuries and we’re still here.
“When we came third we had to go to South Africa [the Cape Town semi-final] and back. We’ve had obstacles but we’ve never complained or carried on.”
Thorn said the team rarely speak among themselves about the Christchurch earthquake but its effects still carry strong resonance within the group.
“We don’t really need to talk about it much because we’re living it,” he said.
Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said Queensland must produce one of their best displays to overcome the resilient Crusaders.
It is the Reds’ first hosting of a Super Rugby final and comes after they finished top of the regular season standings after wallowing in the bottom three for six seasons (2004-2009).
The Reds have won their last two encounters with the Crusaders, both at home, including a last kick 17-16 victory in May. Prior to last year the Crusaders dominated Queensland for 10 seasons.
McKenzie said greater continuity would be required by his Reds to beat a side containing 10 players from the Crusaders’ last title campaign in 2008.
“You are playing against the most experienced team so you have to get everything right,” he said.
“We know from the previous game they stressed us in certain situations and we created pressure on them. We shaded them in the end but there wasn’t much in it.
“Being a final you have to make sure you get it right. They’ll feel they’re finding form and peaking.” — AFP