On a bitterly cold night in Canberra in 2000 – 27 May to be exact – a rivalry was born. It continues to this day.
The Brumbies had beaten the Crusaders a couple of weeks before the final and went into the decider at Canberra Stadium as hot favourites.
With a team featuring Gregan, Larkham and Roff, expectations were high.
But as snowflakes drifted across the ground, and with the Brumbies leading the Crusaders by only two points with three minutes to go, referee Andre Watson made a decision on par with the one made by Ben Cummins in the 2019 NRL Grand Final.
The Brumbies had possession 40 metres out from their line when Watson awarded a penalty to the Crusaders. That penalty is still disputed to this day.
Crusaders fly-half Andrew Mehrtens effortlessly kicked it through the posts and the Canterbury Crusaders held on to win 20-19. It’s worth noting the Brumbies had their chances with Stirling Mortlock kicking just five from nine attempts at goal. The Crusaders’ defence and the accurate boot of Mehrtens, in the end, proved the winning combination.
As an aside, it’s worth pointing out that two years after the Crusaders win, Mehrtens was fined $2000 for criticising Watson’s performance in the 2002 Bledisloe Cup loss to the Wallabies.
The 2000 final in Canberra on that cold Saturday night was followed the day after by the infamous NRL ‘snow game’ between the Raiders and the Wests Tigers where it was so cold players lost any feeling in their feet and were drinking hot tea at half time.
The Brumbies won their first title the following year against the Sharks before again going down 31-13 to the Crusaders in driving rain in the 2002 decider in Christchurch.
The Brumbies had to wait until 2004 to exact revenge on the Crusaders in what was possibly the greatest Super Rugby game in history.
In that game, after 20 minutes of play, the Brumbies led 33-nil with Mark Gerard crossing the line three times. The home side looked unstoppable with Radike Samo in career-best form.
But Mehrtens was introduced off the bench in the 23rd minute and the game turned on its head. The Crusaders crossed twice before half-time and the momentum had well and truly shifted.
The game continued on a knife’s edge for the next 40 minutes. It was gripping. But when the final whistle sounded, the Brumbies had held on to win 47-38. The match featured an extraordinary 13 tries.
As the glitter blew onto the stage and the trophy was held high, coach David Nucifora was told his contract wouldn’t be renewed at the end of the season.
Exactly how it transpired that the coach of a premiership-winning team could be sacked remains a mystery to many, but it was simply another element to the drama on the night of the grand final.
The years 2000 to 2004 established a rivalry that continues to this day.
The current coach of the Crusaders, Scott Robertson, was the Canterbury team’s open side flanker in the 2000 premiership-winning team, and Laurie Fisher was the Brumbies forwards coach in 2004.
It’s almost 20 years since that epic grand final but there is something special when these two sides meet, especially with both near the top of the table.
The Brumbies take on the Crusaders at GIO Stadium this Friday at 7:45 pm. Tickets available here.