26 Aug 2020

How Scott 'Razor' Robertson sharpened the Crusaders

8:11 am on 26 August 2020

Overlooked for the All Blacks job, now in line to help the British and Irish Lions, how did Scott 'Razor' Robertson take the Crusaders back to the top of Super Rugby?

Scott Robertson.
Chiefs v Crusaders. 1 August 2020.

Scott Robertson. Chiefs v Crusaders. 1 August 2020. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz

The Crusaders shoved more silverware in their bulging cabinet by winning Super Rugby Aotearoa and while damaging the trophy during celebrations was a poor look off the field, there's no arguing their dominance on it.

They've now won four titles in a row, and a lot of the credit has to go to their record breaking and break dancing coach Scott Robertson.

His legacy is now well and truly enshrined, but former All Blacks and Crusaders halfback, now Sky Sports commentator Justin Marshall, said his ex-teammate won't be resting on his laurels.

"What Razor is very focused on is enhancing and creating history and he has the players really driven in that respect.

"What he's done since he's grabbed hold of the team is he's made them look back at where the Crusaders started and came from and how they worked through adversity to find success and started to formulate a really impressive record. Of course now he and this current team have possibly the most impressive record of all."

When Robertson took over in 2017 the team was stagnating.

In eight years under former coach Todd Blackadder the once mighty Crusaders had failed to win a title and had finished seventh their past two seasons.

Marshall believes they'd lost their mojo.

"I remember commentating and working at those games when they were going through that tough, tough patch.

"Times when they would have usually been doing the things that made them successful and made them a team that won all their close games, they weren't, and the games were getting away from them. They were dropping results they shouldn't have been. I was like 'there's something not quite right here', you could almost feel it more than you could see it."

Newstalk ZB's Brian Ashby has commentated and covered Crusaders games since Super Rugby began.

He said Robertson inherited a team where the players had too much control.

"If I was to criticise Todd Blackadder for one thing it would be that he gave the players too much rope and they turned that rope into a noose.

"Listening to the players isn't always the right thing, sometimes you've got to take charge and do it the way you want to do it and say to the players, buy in or bugger off."

By drawing that line in the sand, and reminding the team of the club's history, Ashby says Robertson got his disinterested stars to rediscover their passion for Super Rugby.

"Sam Whitelock (veteran All Blacks lock) was a prime example, Owen Franks is another one. Those sort of guys had won two World Cups but no Super Rugby titles. Wyatt Crockett (former All Blacks and Crusaders prop) wrote about it in his book that perhaps some of the players had focused further up the food chain on the All Blacks and satisfying the needs of the then All Blacks coach Steve Hansen, rather than the Crusaders.

"Razor stopped that in its tracks and got those players to give Super Rugby and the Crusaders franchise the respect it deserved and he's been able to build on that."

Halfback Bryn Hall joined the Crusaders from the Blues in 2017, the same year Robertson took over.

"He's got the ability to connect with all the players in the squad from one to 37.

"Most coaches just want to have that connection with the 23 players that are involved on matchday and playing in the game. But Razor can relate and have rapport with anyone and goes out of his way to make sure everyone feels involved in the team's performance, even if they're not playing."

Scott Roberson waves to the Christchurch crowd following their win over the Highlanders. August, 2020.

Scott Roberson waves to the Christchurch crowd following their win over the Highlanders. August, 2020. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2020 www.photosport.nz

That human touch has helped Robertson build a lasting connection with the Crusaders players, from the veterans to the gen y rookies.

While a great man manager, Marshall says Razor won't accept anything other than 100 percent commitment and he's reinstated some traditional Crusaders non-negotiables, including winning every home game and making 90 percent of their tackles.

"You can all then sit in the changing room and look at each other in the eye having a beer, knowing that you achieved what you set out to achieve.

"We reached our standards and while we might not have set the house on fire, we still won at home, we had that tackle success rate and we know if we hit that mark that no team is going to beat us. Those little things, little gains etc that are unseen, but they are more important sometimes than the win because if you tick those boxes, the win will take care of itself."

Robertson keeps ticking those boxes, leading the Crusaders to four straight titles, winning 53 of the 61 games for a success rate of almost 87 percent.

Ashby says Razor isn't afraid to look outside of his circle for advice or fresh ideas and won't let his ego stop him from growing as a coach.

"You try and win that title the next year doing exactly what you did the year before, you're not going to go back to back.

"Robertson is constantly seeking out innovations and improvements. His creativity is very impressive as is his passion and his enthusiasm is next to none. He's great at building on themes and setting themes for a season and getting buy in from the players."

Next year 's Super Rugby season remains uncertain, but one thing's for sure, Razor's Crusaders will be the favourites.