NZ Rugby World
Same Old Formula for the Champions
The Crusaders have provided the Super Rugby benchmark for a long time, but particularly since 2016, coach Scott Robertson’s first year in charge.
The charismatic individual known as Razor has won the competition four times since then. No other coach has won more than two in a row and his legacy as one of Super Rugby’s best ever coaches is already assured.
There is little doubt planning for a fifth would have started shortly after the Crusaders clinched their last title in unique circumstances last year with a win over the Highlanders in Christchurch in Super Rugby Aotearoa, the Kiwi-only competition organised due to the coronavirus.
One of Robertson’s main strengths is his near obsession with providing an environment in which his players (and management) can improve and develop.
It is a stimulating one for senior and junior players alike and partly explains how he gets the best out of men used to success and those new on the scene.
The Crusaders’ excellent academy system is also a factor in the franchise’s continued success. With world class players such as Richie Mo’unga and Sam Whitelock in the side and a forward pack finely tuned on the basics (particularly the set piece), the Crusaders have the ability to adapt depending on the circumstances; they can run the ball with the best of them in the summer months and grind teams into the damp soil in the winter.
Last year the Hurricanes beat the Crusaders in Christchurch 34-32, a victory which broke the Crusaders’ 36-game unbeaten home record, but they remain extremely difficult to beat at their fortress, a temporary stadium hastily erected after the 2011 earthquakes in the city which is hostile to visiting teams and spectators alike.
Midfielder Braydon Ennor’s injury, which will rule him out of Super Rugby Aotearoa 2021 (he may be available to play the trans-Tasman competition which starts in May) is a blow, but the Crusaders have a huge amount of depth and the short-term signing of veteran midfielder/wing Rene Ranger as cover is an intriguing one.