Phoenix crusade for new ideas
THE Wellington Phoenix have a successful formula at home - now they hope they can transfer it to more success on the road after coach Ricki Herbert and captain Andrew Durante met the Crusaders in Christchurch this week.
The timing might seem odd, given the Phoenix have won consecutive games on the road for the first time in their history, but those wins don't cloud the fact they have a dreadful record away from the Cake Tin.
Before their double success against Gold Coast and Newcastle in their last two road trips they had won only four away games since joining the A-League in 2007.
The Crusaders have won seven Super Rugby titles since the competition began in 1996, thanks in no small part to an impressive away record. But they took it to a new level in 2011 when they were forced to play every game away from Christchurch following the earthquakes of February 22 but still qualified for the final.
Herbert and Durante met Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw and assistant coach Daryl Gibson and also sat in on team meetings and watched a training session. Durante said they were comforted to learn their own approach wasn't too dissimilar to the Crusaders' but there were some handy hints.
"We weren't too far off the mark," he said. "When they get off the plane, they make sure they try to stay active and that's something we have tried to do this season. In previous seasons, we haven't been as good as that.
"They have a little thing called the Coffee Club and they get out for a walk in the afternoon. The main thing is trying to be together when you are away and not sitting around in your rooms and becoming lazy."
Gibson and McCaw emphasised the mental aspect of travelling.
"The main message was less about sports science and more about attitude," Gibson said. "Just because you're away, it doesn't mean you shouldn't perform. There are no excuse."
It's an approach the Phoenix adopted in their latest trips following their shock 1-0 loss to Perth at home. They would be wise to employ it again considering they have to play five of their last nine games away, including games against runaway leaders Central Coast and Melbourne Heart (fourth).
Before that, they tackle the Heart in Wellington on Sunday, against the backdrop of threats by Gareth Morgan, one of the club's owners, to take more home games to other centres if the capital's fans don't support their side.
Durante thinks two games should be played elsewhere in New Zealand a season anyway - 20,000 turned out to Eden Park in November and Christchurch in 2010 - and believes they deserve bigger crowds this campaign.
"If ever there was a year when we deserve big crowds, it's this one," he said. "We have battled really hard to get where we are, third, in what has been a really challenging season with new ownership, injuries and suspensions. It's been really positive on the field but crowds have been a little bit lower.
"It's good to get games in other regions and we are pulling good crowds. We are the only professional (football) team in the country so it's nice to spread it around.
"We love it. We want to play in front of big crowds. It's really hard to get 20,000 in Wellington. Maybe two games a season [away from the capital] would be fair. You don't want to take too many games away from the loyal supporters because the Yellow Fever [group of fans] have been brilliant at home for us."
They might get a chance to see Cameron Lindsay make his Wellington debut on Sunday. With Manny Muscat not expected to play as he awaits the birth of his first child in Melbourne and Vince Lia still struggling with a knee injury, Herbert is looking at Lindsay to fill in at right-back.