Crusaders face Waratahs in emotional return to Super Rugby competition

Sam Whitelock just wants to put a smile on people's faces, even if it is only for 80 minutes.

The Crusaders' captain will lead the red and blacks against the Waratahs at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night, when they make an emotional return to Super Rugby. 

It will be eight days since last Friday's despicable Christchurch terrorist attack, a day New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern labelled as one of the country's "darkest days".

The Crusaders' away fixture against the Highlanders last weekend was cancelled in the aftermath of the bloody attack on two Christchurch mosques, a decision which resulted in the match being declared a draw. 

"It's not a week anyone could probably prepare for. The best thing for myself is I've got the whole team to worry about. I spent a lot of time on the phone with Razor [coach Scott Robertson] and Shane [Fletcher] our manager," Whitelock said. 

"It's [staying united] been pretty easy, to tell you the truth. Everyone has stayed tight. Those hard conversations have been had but, obviously, everyone goes through different emotions at different times."

The 30-year-old is all too familiar with playing through adversity, given he is one of seven current Crusaders who played for the franchise in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake.

Players struggling have been offered counselling by the team, while Robertson and assistant coaches Ronan O'Gara, Brad Mooar and Jason Ryan have conducted one-on-ones with the squad. 

The Crusaders, arm-in-arm, paused for a nationwide two minutes' silence during their captain's run in Sydney on Friday afternoon, and will walk side-by-side with the Waratahs onto the Sydney Cricket Ground on Saturday night, before observing a moment's silence in honour of the victims. 

It will then be time for the unbeaten, and table-topping team, to get back to business. Ensuring his players are in the right frame of mind to do so has been paramount for Robertson.

"That's my role as a coach . . . to get the boys ready to play," Robertson said. "We've got a lot of experience. We've been through experiences like this before as a team and a club, with the earthquakes and Pike River [mine explosion in 2010].

"Our big focus is togetherness. We're all in this together. A lot of the boys went down to the memorial and spent time reflecting on it. A changing time and a change in our world. In our small little province, it means a lot to us."

After Christchurch was ravaged by the 2011 earthquake, the Crusaders played every match outside of the Garden City and went on to lose the final against the Reds in Brisbane. 

To many people, they galvanised the city and region. Watching their games was a welcome relief from the everyday reminders of the earthquake. 

Getting back on the field after the week that has been will be about more than simply a pursuit for competition points, Robertson said. 

"We want to play footy and we want to represent. Go out and show that we're together and that we really care about what we do.

"We stand for a lot in our community and we understand our performance means a lot for them, and we will continue to do that."

Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson, who won four titles playing alongside Robertson at the Crusaders between 1996 and 2002, has instructed his team to prepare for an emotionally charged performance from the red and blacks, who will also mark tighthead prop Owen Franks' 150th match for the team. 

The bookies aren't giving the 2-2 Waratahs much of a sniff, but that was also the case when the sides met in Christchurch last May, when the home side scored 31 unanswered points to secure a remarkable 31-29 win. 

"We're very mindful of what happened last year when we kicked the ball to [Israel Folau]," Robertson said. "He scored [a try] and setup a couple and we were 29-0 down. We've done our homework."