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David Miller: Always Next Year In The Super 12

David Miller Online: There Is Always Next Year In The Super 12

As this is the first year in Super 12 history that none of the five New Zealand franchises will be in the semi- finals, I have no doubt that all the so called rugby experts will be out in force giving their analysis and opinions as to what went wrong. I confess that I am no expert on the game of rugby, but as a Crusaders supporter I have to say that I'm disappointed with only getting tenth. This is especially when they had won the championship for the last three years in a row and I had a bet on them at the TAB to make it four. Ever since the Crusaders season effectively ended in the rain in Sydney two weeks ago, the mood in Christchurch has been subdued and one of ‘never mind there is always next year’. What is puzzling to me is not so much why it went wrong in the rugby, but why Cantabrians are proving so philosophical in the face of a catastrophic defeat?

If one casts their mind back to last November and the mood was not quite so light. The final whistle had sounded in the NPC final at Jade Stadium and the Wellington Lions had walked away with the trophy after a match Canterbury was favoured to win. Now I wasn’t at the game, however I was in the city afterwards and I saw all the drunken brawls as frustration boiled over and I was told that outside the ground supporters had damaged property and cars and I read in the media that the local police had a tough time keeping everything in order. Six months later and again Canterbury faces a rugby disappointment, but this time the mood isn’t so bleak and there has not been the wholesale outpouring of grief, as one would have expected.

In hindsight, I guess I was being hopeful when I handed over my ten-dollar bill to the lady at the TAB and placed my bet on the Crusaders winning a four-peat. We only just sneaked past the Brumbies in the final last year and with the loss to the Blues at the start of this year the writing was on the wall. It appeared at the time I should have taken heed of what the experts had to say. Maybe the Blues would be crowned champions again, maybe there would be no Crusaders in the All Blacks, maybe the ten dollars was not coming home.

Following the drubbing of the Chiefs, which is an annual event in Super 12, a feeling of optimism swept over the Crusaders franchise. We were back on track and even the sports experts were beginning to say from their chairs that one shouldn’t write the Red n’ Blacks off. This was good news to me. I remembered handing my ten dollars to the girl the TAB who accepted it with an expression on her face that suggested she thought was I on drugs. This victory was for her and I decided then that when I handed over the prize-winning ticket, she would be counting out the winnings. Then we beat Queensland and it appeared nothing could stop us. Then it all went wrong.

A shattering defeat at the hands of the Hurricanes and the mighty Jonah dented the newly discovered hope. Then it was the embarrassment at the hands of the Stormers and the ever so close loss to the Cats. By now I had all but accepted that the ten dollars could have been better spent, and when the Andrew Mehrtens saga erupted I knew then that the TAB was one up on me. The Mehrtens debate lasted for weeks and looked to me to overshadow everything that was happening on the field. I felt really sorry for Mehrtens, who is not only a champion player but who has had to endure all the speculation as to why his dropping occurred. Once again New Zealand’s cadre of sports experts rose from their armchairs and offered numerous explanations and possibilities. Like most people in Christchurch, I managed to hear a number of them, but the truth is only known by a handful of people and it concerns them only and not anyone else.

While the people of Christchurch and surrounding Crusader provinces adopt the attitude that you cannot win these things forever and its good to see other teams win, which cunningly masks their bitter disappointment and suppresses any urges to go on a drunken rampage through town, the fact of the matter is that I think they realise that domination in sport can only last so long. After that it only becomes a matter of time before the other competitors catch up. New Zealand teams have dominated the Super 12 ever since its inception in 1996 and over the past three years it has appeared that Canterbury, along with Otago was becoming the new power base for the sport here. The Super 12 has given the South African and Australian teams a chance to measure up to New Zealand and this has been reflected with the All Blacks in the past few years. Our performances in the Tri- Nations somewhat lacking and who can forget the shattering World Cup loss to France, which is regarded by many as one of the all time disasters of the 20th Century. (I think World War Two ranked 6th and it is reassuring to see people have not forgotten about that).

All in all, I think the underlying feeling here in Christchurch is one of resignation. You can agree with the sports experts that the players are suffering from fatigue or that the season is too long or that some of the Crusaders players are no longer All Black material. Whatever your point of view, whichever expert you talk with or listen to, there is no getting away from the fact that Cantabrians are resigned to the fact that their side did not have a good Super 12 season and at the start of the semi finals do not deserve to be there. Optimism in such matters is a wonderful thing, and despite getting tenth this season, I will be back at the TAB next year with another ten dollars. There is always next year.

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