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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Game at rugby 'HQ' an experience to savour

Game at rugby 'HQ' an experience to savour

Last updated 05:00 21/03/2011
OPINION: Dunedin, Christchurch, Auckland, Sydney, Dubai, Los Angeles, and, finally, London – the globetrotting Crusaders are on their way.

Last night the first two batches of Crusaders players left New Zealand to prepare for next weekend's historic Super match at Twickenham, leaving behind another two groups to fly out today.

Some head to England via the United States, others through Australia and the United Emirates, to eventually muster in England to begin training for their exotic fixture against the Sharks at rugby's "HQ" next Monday morning (NZ time).

Able to only book flights once the fixture had been confirmed last week there was no chance of the squad travelling en masse, and to avoid mishaps the Crusaders have allocated a management team member to each group.

Still, there is plenty that could go wrong.

Flights could be delayed, luggage may go astray, players could fall ill and passports get lost. But if anything positive has come out of the February 22 earthquake it is that the franchise's leaders have quickly learned how to master the art of the unknown.

Each week they have had to twist and turn to avoid the dangerous bean-balls hurled their way, and this long, disjointed trip to London is just part of a wild ride no-one would have dared predict until last month's disaster.

Twenty-four players will travel for this sixth-round match, with head coach Todd Blackadder among the rearguard on the Emirates airline with stopovers in Sydney and Dubai before reaching London – where he will immediately head to Twickenham for a press conference to promote the match.

Meanwhile, the Sharks' travel schedule is nowhere near as demanding. The South Africans returned to Durban immediately after their 15-9 defeat to the Chiefs in Hamilton last Friday night and with a time-zone difference of just a few hours they should avoid jetlag when they fly to London later this week.

Having watched his side overcome their scratchy first half to thrash the Highlanders 44-13 at Carisbrook last Saturday, Blackadder reckoned the step "into the unknown" should ensure even those players who regularly travel with the All Blacks would be amped for the occasion.

While this match is undoubtedly targeted at the Super-starved rugby fans from New Zealand and South Africa – there are supposedly about 900,000 South Africans in London alone – there will be more than a few curious English supporters eager to catch a final glimpse of some All Blacks in action before the World Cup.

This is when having names such as Dan Carter, Sonny Bill Williams and Brad Thorn on the Crusaders' books will truly pay big dividends.

Although the massive 82,000-capacity stadium will not be full – sales are likely to be capped at about 55,000 or possibly 60,000 if the consent is extended – those who have played there will acknowledge that the proximity of the towering stands and the noise creates an electric atmosphere. It should be an occasion to savour.

- The Press

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