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Crusaders' empire hasn't fallen and isn't even beginning to crumble

By Hamish Bidwell
Scott Barrett of the Crusaders holds the Super Rugby Pacific trophy after winning the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific Final match between the Blues and the Crusaders at Eden Park on June 18, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)

Super Rugby started in 1996.

In that time, the Crusaders have won 10 titles, been beaten finalists three times and lost at the semi-final stage on five occasions.


It’s not a bad record.

And one that’s been accumulated under various coaches and with differing playing rosters.

There’s been some all-time greats among those, some very good operators and many, many honest tradesmen who’ve admirably fulfilled the roles given to them.

But now – according to what I’ve seen and read this week – it’s all over.

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Yes, without Scott Robertson as coach next year, Richie Mo’unga at first five-eighth and the redoubtable Sam Whitelock reportedly pulling stumps, the dynasty is dead.

What absolute rot.

It’s okay not to like the Crusaders. It’s only human nature for some to welcome their demise.

But it’s also absurd to suggest that – when considering this franchise has been the benchmark for decades – that the prospect of losing key personnel immediately spells doom.

Elite players and coaches have always come and gone, but astute succession-planning and talent-identification has always ensured they were adequately replaced.

I enjoyed watching the Chiefs beat the Crusaders the other night.

As much as anything, the match was a timely reminder that rugby, when played with this intensity and by two talented teams, is still a tremendous spectacle.


Well done to the Chiefs on their victory. I thought the vigour of their performance was truly eye-catching.

Hand on heart, though, I would’ve preferred to see the Crusaders win.

I’m from the North Island and I often looked at Canterbury and the Crusaders from afar and didn’t care for them.

They seemed too pleased with themselves. Too wrapped up in their own red-and-black mythology. Too successful.


And then I covered rugby for a few years in Christchurch. I saw the culture they had, the values, the attention to detail, the character.

It won me over completely and convinced me that teams and franchises elsewhere simply weren’t doing things the right way.

But those qualities that encompass Crusaders’ rugby don’t entitle them to win all the time. They give them the opportunity to succeed, but not the right.

In Hamilton, against the Chiefs last week, that opportunity was there once again. On this occasion, the Crusaders didn’t take that.

More to the point, the quality of the Chiefs’ performance simply didn’t allow the Crusaders to take it.


But that doesn’t mean the empire has fallen or is even beginning to crumble. All it means is that, in a two-horse race, the other horse won.

I won’t write the Crusaders off for 2023, just as I don’t think they’re doomed in 2024 and beyond either.

To suggest anything of the sort would be an insult to the foundations that franchise is built upon. Foundations that have stood the test of time and will continue to stand the Crusaders in good stead for many years to come.

They wouldn’t have been the benchmark through so many playing and coaching eras otherwise.



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