As Scott Robertson basked in the afterglow of the Crusaders’ 20-7 win over the Chiefs on Friday night, he would have glanced at Sam Whitelock and Pablo Matera with a mixture of hope and trepidation.
Crusaders coach Robertson cut an emotional figure in the aftermath of the victory in the Super Rugby Pacific semifinal in Christchurch, a consequence of him celebrating 100 games in charge since 2017, but his focus will quickly shift to next weekend’s final.
Who the Crusaders play will be determined by the result of the other semi between the Blues and the Brumbies in Auckland on Saturday night, a fixture Robertson said he will probably watch at home in the seaside suburb of Sumner in Christchurch.
Whether lock Whitelock or blindside flanker Matera will participate in the final is likely to keep Robertson on edge as he hunts for his sixth Super title as a coach.
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Whitelock was a late scratching prior to kick-off because he injured a thumb in the quarterfinal against the Reds a week earlier. Matera was red carded in the second half of the semi after collecting two yellows, one for a professional foul and the other for a high tackle by Chiefs No 10 Bryn Gatland.
Asked about Whitelock’s chances of being fit for the final, Robertson tried to be positive.
“We gave him every opportunity, right to the end, but it wasn’t quite right (to play the Chiefs),” Robertson said.
“So hopefully it heals for next week. He’s a Whitelock. Anything can happen.”
With Whitelock reduced to the role of water carrier, Zach Gallagher locked the scrum with captain Scott Barrett, and Quinten Strange was added to the bench.
Argentina test player Matera will have to wait to learn whether a Sanzaar citing commissioner believes he has a case to answer but given he has now collected three yellow cards – the other was against the Reds in the final regular season game – it seems likely. Citings are usually made within 12 hours after a game.
Because Matera was not red carded for foul play – two yellow cards automatically translate to red – Robertson tried to be positive about the loose forward’s chances of being eligible for the final.
He believed Matera’s tackle on Gatland shouldn’t have led to a red card, via the two yellows.
“What Pablo did, I thought personally, was a penalty. It wasn’t a red card,” Robertson said.
“We are hopeful he will be available.”
Matera will be anxious about the outcome, given this may be his last chance to win a title in the southern hemisphere competition. He is yet to decide whether he will re-sign with the Crusaders, having joined the franchise following a couple of seasons in France.
In 2019 Matera starred for the Jaguares when they lost the Super Rugby final to the Crusaders in Christchurch.
Hooker Codie Taylor is also likely to be carefully managed in coming days after being forced to retire with a calf muscle at halftime. He was replaced by Brodie McAlister, who produced a fine performance.
The Crusaders’ defensive effort was one of their best, although Robertson was unaware they had set a record for the most tackles in a game for the franchise.
A post-match interview with Sky Sport revealed that was the case. ESPN stated the Crusaders made 254 tackles to the Chiefs’ 114, as well as having just 35 percent possession.
A technical issue denied Robertson the chance to monitor statistics during the game, although he could laugh about it afterwards.
“We normally get tackle counts in the box, and tackle counts are reflective of whether you kick poorly, errors or discipline. And they were all down,” he cackled.
“No-one would tell us anything. We just kept tackling and staying in the moment. Because all the stats went out the window.
“Defence wins championships and they have given us a chance for next week.”