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Super Rugby Pacific 2024: Crusaders' Rolls Royce is now a Toyota

By Ben Smith
Scott Barrett of the Crusaders. Photos by Hannah Peters/Getty Images and Joe Allison/Getty Images

The RugbyPass Round Table writers answer the big questions ahead of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season. Ben Smith (BS), Finn Morton (FM) and Ned Lester (NL) weigh in on a range of topics and make their predictions for the season.

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How will the Crusaders fare without super coach Scott Robertson? 

Ned Lester: The Crusaders cut no corners in developing their winning culture and habits, and Scott Robertson doubled down on that. The new All Blacks coach was also mentored by his Crusaders successor Rob Penney, which would suggest there will be some significant consistencies in approach between the two.

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Perhaps the most fascinating question in Super Rugby Pacific this year is exactly how much of the Crusaders’ recent success can be attributed to either of these three factors; the culture, the Richie Mo’unga effect, and the Scott Robertson influence.

The RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, once said “It’s harder to make the glass than it is to break the glass”, and therein lies the danger for the Crusaders.

Class doesn’t disappear overnight, but it does slip away in a hurry if not tended to and nurtured. This Crusaders environment undoubtedly nurtures class, but to what extent?

It may be a shaky start, but Fergus Burke and Codie Taylor will return towards the end of the campaign and amplify any momentum the team can build. With home field advantage proving to be such a strong influence on playoff results though, what happens before the team gets back to full strength may dictate their success as much as what happens after.

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They’ll be in the fight come playoff time, but their opponents will be sniffing blood and are likely to produce their best performance against the reigning champions, which might just be too much for the team without Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock and Leicester Fainga’anuku.

Finn Morton: Congratulations to the Crusaders on an incredible Super Rugby dynasty that may never be repeated. Winning seven titles in as many years under Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson is no easy feat, so even the harshest of critics could not fault their efforts over the better part of the last decade.

But all good things must come to an end. It feels like déjà vu, though, predicting the Crusaders to faulter ahead of a new season. Unless you barrack for the Crusaders, you’ve likely been saying the very same for the last seven years.

This feels different though. There’s no Scott Robertson leading the way, and Richie Mo’unga, Sam Whitelock and Leicester Fainga’anuku have all left the club to pursue other opportunities. It’s a changing of the guard and that doesn’t bode well for the serial champions.

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The Crusaders will descent from their Godly throne as champions to return amongst the pack of ‘pretenders’ in Super Rugby Pacific. With so much star power leaving the club, the men from Christchurch could conceivably finish last out of all the New Zealand sides, too.

Related

Ben Smith: It’s over for the Crusaders’ dynasty in 2024. It’s an early call, but we aren’t going to see an eighth title in eight years.

It’s officially a new era for the Crusaders given that Scott Robertson has departed, taking the magic with him. You can find another great coach, but you can’t replicate the personality and his ability to foster connections, rally a group behind a cause.

New coach Rob Penney is grounded in the Canterbury way, but that won’t win games alone. His stint at the Waratahs showed that. The factors that were in place for Robertson are simply not there for Penney.

The first half of Robertson’s dynasty featured a ‘Rolls Royce’ pack. Not just All Blacks, but some of the all-time greats in Kieran Read and Sam Whitelock. Other All Blacks like Codie Taylor, Owen Franks, Matt Todd, and young ones like Scott Barrett shaped the best pack in the competition for a number of years.

In 2024 the now-veteran Barrett leads a pack of middle-tier players nowhere near that level. They have potential, but that will have to be realised over a number of years. It’s a reliable pack, but more like a Toyota you’ll get good mileage from.

Behind that pack used to be the competition’s best player year-after-year, Richie Mo’unga. The King of Super Rugby has left and the heir is on the sidelines injured in Fergus Burke. Young talent Rivez Reihana gets a shot to start the season and will be a star one day. A lot of water under his bridge is required first.

They’ve got a big midfield with Dallas McLeod and Levi Aumua that their young 10s can lean on and that’s exactly what they’ll do.

There are a number of good things you can expect from the Crusaders as a baseline. They will be hard to beat, they will never give up, and they will beat just about everyone.

But when it counts they will fall short at the semi-finals or even in the final. That will officially spell the end of the Robertson-era dynasty.

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Comments

4 Comments
P
Peter 149 days ago

What these commentators, and a lot of people, fail to understand, is that it is the culture of the Crusaders that makes them consistent, not the “star” players.

D
David 152 days ago

well remember the crusaders always find a way to acheive things look how many titles they have won

J
Jasyn 152 days ago

Some promising youngsters in the side though, especially George Bell, who hopefully will keep his place after the overrated Codie Taylor decides he’s done collecting a paycheck for doing nothing and taking a 6 month long holiday. Real world must be a shock to some of these players when the time comes.

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