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Crusaders anticipating 'a little bit of controversy' in Chiefs grudge match

By Tom Vinicombe
(Photo by Michael Bradley/Getty Images)

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The Crusaders have, over the years, dominated the Super Rugby competition, securing 12 titles throughout the competition’s 26-year history and managing a 70 per cent win-record throughout that period.

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In the early years, the Blues were the Crusaders’ biggest rivals thanks to the sheer number of All Blacks boasted by the two franchises coupled with decades worth of history between the Auckland and Canterbury provincial sides.

In recent times, however, that rivalry has grown rather one-sided, with the Crusaders going undefeated against the Blues since 2014, chalking up 15 victories along the way.

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Instead, it’s the men just south of the Blues who have taken up the mantle as the Crusaders’ fiercest foes, with the Chiefs causing plenty of frustrations for the men from Christchurch over the past decade.

In 2012 and 2013, buoyed on by ‘Chiefs Mana’ and some breakdown napalm instilled by new coach Dave Rennie, the Chiefs bested the Crusaders in back-to-back semi-finals in Hamilton en route to their two Super Rugby titles.

 

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More recently, the Chiefs managed four wins on the trot against the Crusaders in 2014 and 2015, and scored at least one victory each season from 2019 until 2021. At present, the Chiefs hold Super Rugby’s best success rate over the Crusaders – even if it does sit at only 40 per cent.

Throw in last year’s Super Rugby Aotearoa final – won by the Crusaders – and you have a fierce contest brewing ahead of Saturday’s game in Chritchurch.

“The boys have done a lot of homework for this game, which we have to,” Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said this week. “The Chiefs-Crusaders rivalry is as strong as ever.

“It’s tough, they’re close games, they always have a little bit of controversy or tight moments that you’ve gotta win to get the result. Hence the final last year is still pretty fresh in our minds and I’m sure it’s in theirs as well.”

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Last year’s two games in Christchurch certainly didn’t lack for controversy, as alluded to by Robertson. In the first game between the two sides, the Crusaders were awarded a penalty try and Brad Weber was sent to the sin-bin after a clear knock-on from Richie Mo’unga, while both Codie Taylor and Sevu Reece were probably lucky to escape red cards in the Super Rugby Aotearoa final for dangerous tackles.

It’s the earlier seasons, when Rennie was involved, that many Crusaders remember the most, however.

“2012, 2013 seasons when Rens came in and created that sort of different edge – ‘Chiefs Mana’ – and they started to live by that mantra, the Crusaders couldn’t keep up with it,” Robertson said. “We got beaten in a couple of semi-finals and over the years it’s sort of been riddled with close matches along the way and [the Crusaders] felt like they’d sort of walked off the field and been beaten up. And the Chiefs had done a great job, they beat the Crusaders.

“We’re honest, we’re open about it. We know when we walk off the field if we’ve [been] beaten because we haven’t fronted up and that’s why the games are so great because we’ve probably brought our own edge to it so it’s a balance between both teams going at it. We both play great quality free-flowing footy as well, we’ve got some highly skilled athletes. So I think that’s where it’s stemmed from.”

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Crusaders centurion Sam Whitelock echoed Robertson’s take on the rivalry.

“The Chiefs and Crusaders have an unbelievable history over the last 26 years Super Rugby’s been played,” he said. “I think if you look at it, it’s so competitive because no one team’s had dominance over the whole time. Crusaders have had it in the past, Chiefs have had it in the past.

“It just shows you can’t take anything for granted and this week’s exactly that. We haven’t played each other for a little bit and it’s going to be awesome to get out there.”

Whitelock made his debut for the Crusaders in 2010 and enjoyed three straight successes against the Chiefs before the 2012 season arrived. While the Chiefs have always been tough opposition, like every New Zealand franchise, Whitelock confirmed that the aggressive edge the Hamiltonians brought to the breakdown when Rennie came on board was what differentiated them from other high-calibre sides.

“Obviously, they were very successful in that little window there, I think it was 12 and 13, they won the comp two years in a row,” Whitelock said. “Every time I’ve played the Chiefs, whether it was in 2010 or last year, it’s always competitive. It’s always hard and it’s always physical – and that’s just not a Chiefs thing, that’s a New Zealand thing. We love to play against out neighbours or people we know really well within our country.

“But in saying that, [the breakdown aggression] was their strength, that’s what they were good at, that’s what separated them from the rest of the competition. It’s something that they’ve held onto for a while and they’re really good at so that’s something that we’ve gotta make sure we’re prepared for but at the same time, we’ve got to expect them to do something different.

“Teams are smart enough to change the way they’re playing, to attacking your weaknesses, and all week they’ve been sitting up there in Hamilton looking at how we play and they’ll be trying to find our weaknesses and they’ll be trying to exploit it.”

The Crusaders will host the Chiefs at Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch on Saturday evening at 7:05pm NZT.

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