The disaster final

 
Robbie Fruean of the Crusaders charges up field during the Super Rugby semi-final match between DHL Stormers and Crusaders, at DHL Newlands Stadium on July 02, 2011 in Cape Town, South Africa The Crusaders have suffered several tragedies in recent months

One of the year's great feel-good sports stories plays out tonight in Brisbane, as the Queensland Reds take on New Zealand's Crusaders in the final of the Super 15 rugby.

It has been dubbed the "natural disasters final", because it pits flood-affected Queensland against quake-affected Canterbury.

The final is being played at a stadium in Brisbane, which was under water the last time I was there. What used to be called Lang Park is now commonly known as Suncorp Stadium - it is sponsored by one of the insurance companies that has been helping in the clean-up.

By a strange coincidence, the Crusaders' stadium in Christchurch, which they have not been able to use since the earthquake in February, is sponsored by another insurance firm, AAMI.

Quade Cooper during a Queensland Reds Super Rugby training session at Ballymore Stadium on July 4, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia Quade Cooper: the world's most entertaining player?

Admittedly, the Reds have not been much affected by the floods. They occurred in January, pre-season, and the muddy waters that inundated their home ground had drained away long before their first home game.

For the Crusaders, however, the earthquake is an ongoing nightmare. Not only have the team been forced to play every single game outside of their home city, but the players and their families have had to endure the stress of regular aftershocks.

When the team has gone on tour to Australia and South Africa, they have had to leave behind wives and children, knowing that another quake could be in the offing.

The Crusaders have actually had to absorb a double tragedy. In the months leading up to their first game of the season, the team had decided to honour the victims of the Pike River mining disaster by wearing the red and white colours of the local rugby club. They stayed true to that pledge, even though the earthquake, a much larger catastrophe, happened in between.

Every time the Crusaders' famed horsemen have taken to the field before a game, wearing their usual medieval costumes and flourishing their swords, Braveheart-like, in the air, it has felt like an act of civic defiance.

The game itself promises to be an absolute belter. In my humble view, there is no more entertaining side in Australian sport right now than the Queensland Reds. They really are a flair team, who play rugby union as it was intended to be played: with the ball in hand and with the emphasis on relentless waves of attack.

Urban Search and Rescue workers walk past piles of debris as they enter the Christchurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square after it was severely damaged in the recent earthquake, on 5 March 2011 Christchurch was largely wrecked during the earthquake in March

I'd also suggest that there is no more entertaining player in world rugby right now than Quade Cooper, the team's extravagantly talented fly-half. Cooper seems to combine the poise of a ballet dancer with the escapology skills of Houdini and the sleight of hand of a pick-pocket. Like all good magicians, you are left wondering just how he does it.

The Crusaders are also packed with talent. There's the great Dan Carter at fly-half, and the newcomer to rugby league, Sonny Bill Williams, outside him in the centre. Like Cooper, Sonny Bill's wristy trickery is a wonder to behold.

After losing out in the entertainment stakes for many years to rugby league - and yes, I know, Quade Cooper and Sonny Bill both started out in the 13-man-a-side code - it has been a good season for rugby union as it builds up to the world cup in New Zealand in September.

This should be a suitably epic and emotional climax to what has been a terrifically entertaining domestic season.

 
Nick Bryant Article written by Nick Bryant Nick Bryant New York correspondent

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