Canon Rugby in Focus: Born-and-bred Aucklander Jim Kayes tries to determine when and why he began to have feelings for a rugby side other than his blue and whites.
It’s Todd Blackadder’s fault.
And the fault of the amazing character, resolve and resilience the Crusaders showed in the wake of the 2011 earthquakes.
I. Like. The. Crusaders.
To be fair, Wayne Smith had made the first dent but it was Blackadder and his lopsided smile and easy manner that had me (pause, gulp) starting to like the team.
I realised in the days before the 2011 final in Brisbane that something fundamental had changed, that there had been a seismic shift in my core.
As a lad from Auckland who grew up through the halcyon days of the 1980s and early 1990s it was easy to see Canterbury as the enemy.
North Harbour’s arrival gave us a foe closer to home but that rivalry has fizzled really as neither team is much chop.
But Canterbury, ah Canterbury, how I screamed myself hoarse at the TV when we took the [Ranfurly] Shield off you in 1985. It was a glorious afternoon that led to many enjoyable Saturdays as Auckland held the log for eight wonderful years.
I was working at the Waikato Times when we lost it to the Mooloo men and found myself assigned by my editor to a week of Shield stories just to rub it in.
That hurt, but at least we didn’t lose it to Canterbury.
There was once a sign held by a child at a game in Christchurch that plainly claimed “We hate you Auckland”. It created a bit of a storm – as much as it could in the pre-social media days, but it didn’t trouble my mates and I. We knew how they felt.
It was an emotion that sustained me for a long time, till the earthquakes struck and Blackadder got under my skin.
It was compelling, when I chatted with Steve Tew the other day, that the departing NZ Rugby CEO listed the way the Crusaders coped in 2011 as one of the things he was most proud of from his time at the helm.
This was a team from a broken city still reeling from the deadly quakes and dealing with the many aftershocks, with no home ground, who simply rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.
With the likes of Corey Flynn and Andy Ellis showing the way, they never complained, never over stated what was happening to their friends and family, never used it as an excuse but also, never trivialised or down-played the impact those quakes were having on their lives.
They travelled the globe, taking a game to London, and arrived in Brisbane for the final shattered but determined.
It was easy to be impressed and with the highly likeable Blackadder, with his disarming manner and simple honesty, it became increasingly difficult not to actually like the buggers.
That’s carried over with Scott Robertson as head coach.
Robertson arrived in Christchurch in 1996 as a skinny Bay of Plenty loose forward who loved to surf and had a board with him but had forgotten to pack his rugby boots.
He’s as homespun and disarming as Blackadder but has managed to get the best out of his All Blacks in a way his predecessor couldn’t.
They also play a fantastic style.
It didn’t used to be this way. When Blackadder was captain the Crusaders were as boring as paint drying as they kicked for the corners and played for penalties.
But that’s changed just as Auckland and the Blues have slipped.
There was another sign once held by a Cantab fan declaring Auckland were shit. It wasn’t far wrong and the Blues are worse which leaves some of us casting about for decent rugby to watch.
Not that I’ve given up on the Blues, you can’t when you grew up a short bike ride from Eden Park.
But long gone are the days when Fitzy, Foxy, Michael and JK ruled the rugby roost.
Even those glorious days when Jonah and Joeli were doing their bit are Kodak distant.
Having lived in Wellington for 17 years, met my wife there, seen our daughters born there, there is a strong tie to the Hurricanes.
They are rugby’s entertainers and I would dearly love to see them win another title.
But I fear it could be a long, cold night for them in Christchurch in the semifinal against a Crusaders side that continues to set the standard in Super Rugby.
They are the All Blacks with a tinge of red and that pack could do things to the Hurricanes eight that might require an R-rating.
If that happens, and I strongly suspect it will, then Richie Mo’unga will again look a million bucks strutting his stuff and prompting calls for him to replace Beauden Barrett as the All Blacks first five.
Outside him Ryan Crotty is the epitome of a decent bloke. When he first made the All Blacks he was asked how he’d fare with the haka.
“Mate, I’ve been practising the haka in the mirror since I was four.”
He spoke for so many of us.
He’s also one one heck of a rugby player so again, just as it was with Blackadder, these fellas a hard to dislike.
And who doesn’t enjoy the young turks – Jack Goodhue, Sevu Reece, George Bridge, David Havili and Braydon Ennor – in full flight?
Yes, as much as I fell in love with the attacking might and domination of that Auckland side in the 80s and 90s, so too is it easy to fall in…[hang on, let’s not get carried away!].
Curse you Todd Blackadder.
You know every time I interviewed you live for TV3, the Crusaders lost. It was an awkward record we established over the years and yet you never said no.
You’d smile, shake that head of yours, joke that I would soon be banned from Christchurch, and then we’d get into it, you as nice and polite as ever.
I yearn for the days when I could despise the Crusaders and I dream of the Blues being brilliant again. I hope the Hurricanes win, but know, deep down in my traitor’s heart, that I will be content if the Crusaders are again crowned champions.
To my friends, if I may still call you that, I am truly sorry.