Just days remain until the final match of the 2018 Super Rugby season kicks off. The Lions, named after the courageous animal found in the safaris of Africa, will be at long odds to take the Super Rugby crown, given they’re traveling to Canterbury’s holy ground of rugby. In fact, in twenty knockout matches in Christchurch, the home team have yet to be defeated.
Unquestionably, the Lions will have to channel their namesakes if they are to have any chance of winning, but if the Crusaders play like their namesakes, then we may have a bigger problem on our hands.
In fact, the sheer absurdity of naming a team the Crusaders has somehow escaped mass criticism since the team’s inception. For everyone unfamiliar with the name’s origins, the crusades were a collection of wars between Christians and Muslims that took place between the 11th and 13th centuries. The Christian fighters, the crusaders, were fighting for control of Jerusalem, a holy land that had been in possession of the Muslims for almost 500 years.
You can draw many parallels to Super Rugby’s historically most successful team here – fighting for their land, waging war against their enemies, the Christian roots of their home city – it’s a fitting team name in many ways.
What appears to have been overlooked when the Crusaders were being christened, was that their namesakes of yore weren’t exactly the most respectable people around. Perhaps you could argue that their cause was just (though even this is questionable), but their methods went far beyond what anyone would ever call honourable – or even tolerable.
The Christian soldiers, ostensibly fighting for their religion, carried out acts of extreme violence – massacring everyone they came across. Their enemies were shown no mercy – but nor was anyone else who happened to get in their way. Muslims, Jews, other Christians – the crusaders didn’t discriminate. Someone with little appreciation for history (or little appreciation for tact) would argue that this is fitting for the Crusaders rugby team – they’ll destroy any opposition they come up against, but of course, that’s a horribly callous way to look at it.
Is naming your team after the men who were at least partially responsible for wiping out almost one percent of the then-population really the best idea? Perhaps the men in charge of selecting the name would attest that they were using the more general definition of a crusader – a hard worker, advocating for a particular cause – but that seems hard to believe, given the previously mentioned Christian background of Christchurch.
Certainly, naming a professional sports team after religious freedom fighters is a controversial decision at best, but there are other teams in this wacky Super Rugby competition who have also been blessed with somewhat dubious (though certainly less contentious) names.
Head north from Canterbury to Super Rugby’s second most successful team (at least in terms of number of competitions won) and you will find yourself in Blues country – what the name means, exactly, is anyone’s guess.
Whilst most teams are named after a ferocious animal, a force of nature, or a synonym for ‘horse’, the Blues moniker was presumably selected as it captures the team colours of two of the franchise’s original feeder provinces – Auckland and Northland. This could have been done to create a strong team identity, to unite provinces that had once been at each other’s throats. Then again, the team name certainly doesn’t try to capture the hearts of Counties Manukau (originally part of the Blues) or North Harbour supporters – though, to be fair, the ‘Blue and Reds’ or ‘Blue and Maroons’ doesn’t quite roll off the tongue so well.
Sadly, the Blues name seems to now be more associated with the ever-present emotion that Blues ‘supporters’ (an oxymoron if ever one did exist) must contend with on a weekly basis after watching their franchise once again succumb to the will of their opposition.
Across the Tasman, the only other team in the competition named after a colour must also have curious rationalisation for their nomenclature. Maroon is the state colour for Queensland – it’s why their local Super Rugby team played in maroon strips for so many years. Logic and sensibility be damned, however, as the Queensland rugby union settled on calling their team the Reds.
Maybe it’s because Queensland’s State of Origin rugby league team was already known as the Maroons, maybe it’s just because maroon is, quite honestly, a pretty garish colour – only the original QRU heads know why they opted for the Reds title. On the plus, the team is at least now playing in colours which are befitting of their name.
Australia’s newest contribution to Super Rugby, the Melbourne Rebels, have at least provided some explanation for their name. At their official team launch in 2013, ex-Wallaby Chris Handy said “Victorian rugby has a history of daring to be different, a touch of the larrikin, and always having a go.”
With Danny Cipriani, James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale on their books in the first few years, it was the team’s off-field rebelling that really captured the media’s attention. Regardless, the Rebels doesn’t seem like the most appropriate team name in the game of rugby – a sport categorised by rigid systems where every player has a key role to carry out.
Even more perplexing is the fact that the Rebels chose to addend ‘Melbourne’ to their team name. Though certainly not unusual to include the team’s home base in their name, the other Australian teams had all opted to use their states – ACT, New South Wales, Queensland, which is why Victoria would have been the obvious choice for the Rebels. Maybe this is what Handy was referring to when he said that Victorians had a “history of daring to be different”.
Daring to be different is also an apt way to describe the New South Wales Waratahs, who had no desire to intimidate their opposition into performing poorly on name along. The Waratah, for non-botanists out there, is a flowering shrub native to Australia’s south-east. Known for being brightly coloured and showy, the shrub is actually a decent metaphor for the men from Sydney, given the flair they regularly show – but the waratah can also be quite difficult to grow and competes poorly with other flowers in its immediate vicinity. You have to wonder whether the NSW top dogs came to regret the name, given that the Waratahs were the last of the original Australian teams to win the Super Rugby competition, only succeeding after their closest rivals, the Reds and the Brumbies, had already tasted the spoils.
At the end of the day, however, team names mean very little. Perhaps when first inaugurated, a good name can more easily attract and galvanise supporters – but any on-field performance is likely to be unaffected. Thankfully none of the Super Rugby teams have horribly racist names like some other sports teams around the world.
Ultimately, any serious thought gone into the titles of professional rugby teams is likely better used in other capacities, such as arguing over whether Aaron Smith performs better with or without a top knot (the answer is unquestionably ‘without’ if anyone is wondering).
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