As part of SA Rugby magazine’s in-depth Super Rugby preview edition, JON CARDINELLI highlights the Crusaders as they chase their fourth consecutive title.
The Crusaders have dominated most facets of play for the past three years and are rightly recognised as one of the world’s best club teams. Their record under coach Scott Robertson include 48 wins, three draws and five losses. The Waratahs were the only team outside New Zealand to beat the Cantabrians during that period.
The Crusaders’ most recent win, against the Jaguares in the 2019 Super Rugby final, marked their 24th consecutive playoff victory at home and extended their unbeaten run for all games in Christchurch to 31. Overall, they’ve won 10 titles and are the undisputed kings of Super Rugby.
Will they have what it takes to finish at the top of the pile again in 2020? Robertson, who was surprisingly overlooked for the All Blacks position after Steve Hansen stepped down at the end of the World Cup, has lost All Blacks captain Kieran Read and senior players Owen Franks and Ryan Crotty, who have opted to further their careers abroad, while Sam Whitelock has taken a sabbatical in Japan and will only return to the franchise in 2021.
The Crusaders are blessed with quality in depth, though, and their junior structures are world class. The franchise was tested at times last season when several of their senior players were injured but they still won 11 regular-season games to finish first in the overall standings.
While they may miss the decision-making ability and big-match temperament of Read, Whitelock and Crotty in the playoffs, they certainly have the talent to stake a claim for yet another title.
Robertson recently decided to entrust All Blacks lock Scott Barrett with the captaincy.
The 25-year-old beat out other candidates such as Codie Taylor, Jack Goodhue and Whetukamokamo Douglas – all of whom served as vice-captain at some point in the 2019 campaign.
Robertson said Barrett was respected by the coaches and players, and that his work ethic, consistency and character make him well suited to the responsibility. He has been with the Crusaders since 2014 and has 36 Test caps to his name.
BACK TO WATCH
Richie Mo’unga was 23 when he won his first title with the Crusaders in 2017. He has continued to grow and was backed to start for the All Blacks ahead of Beauden Barrett at flyhalf at the 2019 World Cup. His speed off the mark and passing game are assets, not to mention his ability to create opportunities via the crosskick.
FORWARD TO WATCH
Hooker Codie Taylor should take on more responsibility now that a host of experienced Crusaders forwards have moved on. Contrary to popular belief, the Crusaders owe much of their success over the past three seasons to a multitalented pack of forwards. Few have matched the team at the scrum and lineouts and men like Taylor have been central to setting the platform for the backs to strike. A powerful ball-carrier and an influential player at the breakdown, the hooker is the complete package, as evidenced by his frontline role with the All Blacks.
The Crusaders have opted to back New Zealand U20 players like Tom Christie, Cullen Grace and Fergus Burke rather than recruit seasoned Test and Super Rugby veterans.
Second-row powerhouse Sam Whitelock will play for the Panasonic Wild Knights in Japan this season.
New Zealand Rugby picked Ian Foster over Scott Robertson to succeed All Blacks coach Steve Hansen in the wake of the 2019 World Cup. It’s good news for the defending champs, who retain the services of the innovative Robertson for at least two more seasons. His coaching record speaks for itself after leading the Saders to the Super Rugby three-peat. The former loose forward also won three titles with the Crusaders as a player. ‘It’s nothing personal,’ he commented after missing out to Foster. ‘They chose him and I get to coach a team that I love coaching in the Crusaders. The best thing to do is get straight back into it.’