The benefits of an African safari

Crusaders coach Robbie Deans, who is looking forward to his returning All Blacks next week, said his team learnt some “painful” lessons on their just completed three-match tour of South Africa.

“We might not have achieved the outcomes we were seeking in two of our three matches, but there was still much good to come from the tour,” Deans said in his weekly column on the Crusaders website.

“As the results that the South African sides achieved away from home last weekend showed, the competition is incredibly tight this year, with the teams from the Republic clearly benefiting from a growing belief in their ability to compete.

“That being the case, no touring side is going to have an easy time of it touring South Africa. It may be that the seven points we gained are seen in an even better light down the track.

“As far as the development progress of our side is concerned, the three weeks away were also exceedingly valuable.

“We grew significantly as a group on tour. This was evident in the performances in the last two matches after the setback of the first up loss at Ellis Park. It manifested itself in the growth of a number of individuals, who made big steps forward – both in terms of their contribution within our environment, but also as far as their own career development is concerned.

“Sometimes personal development can include learning lessons the hard way, and that was certainly the case at Durban on Saturday where our failure to kill off play after the final whistle handed the Sharks an opportunity to nail the result – which they did.

“That was unfortunate, and is certainly a situation that we hope we don’t experience again. Sometimes some of life’s best lessons are also the most painful.

“As a coaching staff, looking at the game as a whole, we certainly couldn’t fault the commitment and energy the players expended.”

Deans said that despite the progress made there are still aspects of their game that they need to continue to work on.

He said they have “lighten the load” for the players and the team has been given two days off. They will hit the training track again on Thursday and have two days work, prior to giving the guys another two days off over their bye weekend.

“From next week, we will have an added challenge as a group, in terms of incorporating the six players from the All Blacks’ conditioning programme, back into our mix.

“Leon MacDonald, Aaron Mauger, Daniel Carter, Richard McCaw, Reuben Thorne and Chris Jack will join us for training on Monday for the first time in the campaign.

“It is exciting to have players of their quality involved, and they are no doubt eager and possibly anxious to return to rugby specific training after a sustained period working solely on a strength and conditioning base.

“Their re-entry does present some significant – and unique – challenges.

“The conditioning All Blacks are not available for selection until our match against the Stormers in Christchurch on March 24.

“In the interim, it is critical that we get them up to speed with our strategy and method, while not compromising the needs of the rest of the group, whose focus is solely on our home match with the Bulls on March 17.

“To achieve both outcomes, and ensure that our preparation for the Bulls match is not distracted by the return of the All Blacks, we will prepare them as a group both with us, and also separately, until they are once again eligible for selection.

“Although there is naturally going to be an increased level of public and media interest in how the conditioning All Black players are coming along, the Bulls match is the Crusaders only focus.

“It has to be. No one can afford to take any short cuts – in either preparation or performance – in a competition as tough as the Super 14 is.

“As the Bulls showed last weekend [when winning 19-7

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