Opinion: Blackadder's Crusaders perennial underachievers

Outgoing Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder (Getty file)
Outgoing Crusaders coach Todd Blackadder (Getty file)

It's a bit cowardly to kick a team when they are down (and in this case out) but did the 2016 Super Rugby season prove that the Crusaders are "flat track bullies" as some have suggested. 

It's a phrase more usually associated with cricketers, referring to batsmen who can score prolific runs in benign conditions but get found out when the ball is seaming or swinging around. Think a whole swag of Indian players who have incredible records at home but can barely get it off the square when they travel abroad. 

But it is applicable to the Crusaders. During the season the only Kiwi opposition they beat were the Blues twice, though they did have two very good away wins against the Lions in Johannesburg and the Brumbies in Canberra. 

They also demolished some of the lesser teams - like the one sided romp that was the Rebels game in Christchurch. 

However against the other Kiwi sides - which is the true measure of where you are at as a team - they lost to the Chiefs twice, the Highlanders and the Canes. 

So did a side that had class all over the paddock - Read, Franks, Crockett, Whitelock, Todd, Romano, Ellis, Crotty, Nadolo, Dagg - underachieve in Todd Blackadder's last year in charge. You would have to say yes.

Anything less than a title is a failure for the Crusaders in 2016 - and after looking like they were the hot favourite there for a while, ultimately they couldn't deliver when they had to.

In the quarter finals over the weekend the Lions exacted revenge big time for their loss earlier in the season, and suddenly the Crusade was over. 

Does Blackadder have a legacy?

His finest moment was the 2011 season and the way he guided the team post-earthquake. They had matches all over, including in London - only to be cruelly denied in the final against the Reds.  

Blackadder often talks about "good men" in the Crusaders environment, and there is no doubt that he is one himself. From a media perspective he is always friendly and obliging and more than happy to stay back after sessions and yarn with the press.  

Over the years he has always been positive - always, publically anyway, believing that this is the year.

But tactically, strategically etc, was he is a good coach? Players he coached were very loyal to him, and him to them - but did he have the rugby nous to make his team stand out from the pack?

Unfortunately for him and the team that elusive championship has not come under his eight years of stewardship.

Whether it will niggle away at him in the years and decades to come is impossible to know - or will he in time dismiss it as "giving his best shot but coming up short".

It appears he is not going to be lost to rugby coaching - and the two options appear to be the Reds in Brisbane and Bath in England.  And then there's the issue of what happens to his two sidekicks Dave Hewitt and Tabai Matson.  

The Crusaders had the capacity to be brilliant entertainers - Dagg's comeback match springs to mind - and they seemed to transition well from the Dan Carter/Richie McCaw era.

But in the end they just were not good enough to beat an in-form Lions team, and that loss followed the 35-10 thrashing they were dealt by the Hurricanes. 

What they had at the end of the season was the opposite of the momentum they wanted. 

History doesn't remember losing teams, though there is no question Blackadder will be fondly remembered by all in Canterbury and beyond.

The fact that people even talk about his side as "flat track bullies" will not sit well - not as a player, and certainly not as a coach.