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The six best Super Rugby champions of all-time

By Adam Julian
The Hurricanes celebrate after winning the 2016 Super Rugby Final match between the Hurricanes and the Lions at Westpac Stadium on August 6, 2016 in Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Simon Watts/Getty Images)

If the Chiefs beat the Crusaders in the Super Rugby final on Saturday it will cap off one of the most impressive seasons in the history of the competition. They would become the first team to beat the Crusaders three times in a single year having beaten every other side in the competition at least once.

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The Chiefs scored more and conceded fewer points than every team in the round-robin. Their only loss was to the Reds by three points with nine front-line players missing. They nearly scored a try to win that game following a 27-phase attack that ran deep into injury time.

Who are the most impressive and dominant winners of Super Rugby? And where would the Chiefs rank alongside these historic heavyweights?

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1997 Blues

Inaugural Super 12 winners the Blues successfully defended their title with an undefeated second season – a dozen wins and a 40-40 draw in the first round against Northern Transvaal in Pretoria.

The 1997 Blues scored 66 tries and had an average score of 39-25. Their biggest win was 63-22 against the Lions.

In the semi-final, the Blues blitzed the Sharks 55-36 returning to Eden Park a week later to outmuscle the Brumbies 23-7 in heavy conditions in the decider.

Every player in the Blues starting XV was an international with 13 All Blacks and Samoan internationals Leo Lafaiali’i and Brian Lima.

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Hooker Sean Fitzpatrick was All Blacks captain, but No 8 Zinzan Brooke assumed skipper duties for the Blues.

All Blacks Jeremy Stanley, Dylan Mika, and Charles Riechelmann were on the bench.

All Blacks World Cup winner Sir Graham Henry was the coach.

The 1997 Blues also toured the Northern Hemisphere and beat Bristol XV (62-21), NEC Harlequins (33-29), and Brive (47-11).

2002 Crusaders

The 2002 Crusaders are the only team in Super Rugby to win every game in a season. In 13 matches they outscored opponents 534-300 and had the best attacking and defensive record of any team in the competition.

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In the final, the Crusaders beat the Brumbies 31-13 in Christchurch. They had required an Aaron Mauger drop goal to win their round-robin meeting 33-32. Winger Marika Vunibaka (17 Tests for Fiji) was the only player who wasn’t an All Black in the starting XV. All Blacks David Hewett, Corey Flynn, Sam Broomhall, Daryl Gibson, and Ben Blair were on the bench.

The most extraordinary performance by the Crusaders was the record 96-19 demolition of the second-placed Warathas in the last round of the regular season. The Crusaders scored 14 tries, 13 of them converted by Andrew Mehrtens. Caleb Ralph scored a franchise record four tries and Scott Robertson, Leon MacDonald, and Vunibaka each dotted down twice.

The Crusaders coach was Robbie Deans who guided the Crusaders to five titles and 89 wins in 120 games.

2004 Brumbies

The Brumbies were the first team outside of New Zealand to win Super Rugby in 2001. By 2004 they were stacked. They topped the round-robin with an 8-3 record and scored the most points with 408.

In the final against the Crusaders in Canberra, the Brumbies led 33-0 after 19 minutes! Wing Mark Gerrard scored an opening quarter hat-trick and opposite wing Joe Roff scored two tries and kicked six conversions. The Crusaders, with 13 All Blacks in the starting XV, rallied bravely but lost 47-38.

Centre Joel Wilson was the only player in the Brumbies starting XV that wasn’t a Wallaby. Wallabies Guy Shepherdson, David Giffin (50 Tests), Matt Henjak, and Mark Bartholomeusz were in the reserves.

Halfback George Gregan and first-five Stephen Larkham had a stand named after them at Bruce Stadium.

The Brumbies coach was David Nucifora, now High Performance Director of Irish Rugby.

2009 Bulls

The Bulls were the first South African team to win Super Rugby in 2007 when an 83rd-minute Bryan Habana try denied the Sharks in Durban.

Their brutal and clinical approach helped them win further titles in 2009 and 2010. The former of those seasons was a golden time in South African rugby. The Springboks won a British and Irish Lions series and toppled the All Blacks three times.

The Bulls topped the round robin of Super Rugby in 2009 with 10 wins in 13 matches and impressively defeated the Hurricanes and Reds on the road.

Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria was an absolute fortress, and the Bulls initially dismantled the Crusaders 36-23 in the semis. Morne Steyn kicked four drop goals. In the final, the Bulls were even more ruthless smashing the Ian Foster-coached Chiefs by a record 61-17.

The Bulls outscored the visitors eight tries to two with Habana and halfback Fourie Du Preez each scoring twice.

Hooker Derick Kunn was the only player in the starting XV in the final who never played for the Springboks. With Pierre Spies, Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha, and Gurthro Steenkamp in the pack the Bulls were fearsome.

2016 Hurricanes

The Hurricanes blew a royal chance to win the title in 2015 when they lost to the Highlanders (who they’d smashed 56-20 less than a month previously) in the final in Wellington.

Heading into the 17th and final round of the 2016 regular season the Hurricanes were fifth on a congested championship table. A 35-10 demolition of the Crusaders in Christchurch catapulted the Hurricanes into first.

Spurred on by the failure of 2015 the Hurricanes didn’t concede a single try in defeating the Sharks (41-0), Chiefs (25-9), and Lions (20-6) en route to the title. The Hurricanes went 291 minutes without conceding a try.

There were nine All Blacks in the Hurricanes starting XV in the final. The often maligned forward pack consisted of All Blacks Dane Coles, Ben May, Jeff Toomaga Allen, Vaea Fifita, Brad Shields, Ardie Savea, and Victor Vito.

TJ Perenara and Beauden Barrett are the most successful halves combination the Hurricanes have had, and Corey Jane and Julian Savea were All Blacks wings.

There were big contributions from the likes of Jason Woodward, Michael Fatialofa, and Willis Halaholo who later played for Wales.

2017 Crusaders

The present Crusaders dynasty has delivered a record six consecutive titles and 97 wins in 117 matches (456 tries).

The tactical masterclass in halting the Blues at Eden Park last year was imperious but winning a first title in nine years against a formidable Lions lineup at Ellis Park in Johannesburg was cited by All Blacks and Crusaders legends Matt Todd, Ryan Crotty, Wyatt Crockett, and Luke Romano as their favourite triumph.

The Crusaders and Lions shared a 14-1 record in the round robin with the South African’s marginally better points differential earning them first place after the round robin.

The Crusaders whitewashed the Highlanders 17-0 in the quarter-final and eliminated the Chiefs 27-13 in the semi.

In the final against the Lions three unanswered tries to All Blacks Seta Tamanivalu, Jack Goodhue, and Kieran Read built a huge lead – worsened for the Lions by a red card to Kwagga Smith.

Only Jordan Taufua and Bryn Hall weren’t present or future All Blacks in the Crusaders starting XV.

The Crusaders win was themed after the story of Muhammad Ali and the heavyweight champion’s exploits of 1974 when after two losses he upset George Forman to reclaim the Heavyweight crown in Africa. The Crusaders had lost finals in 2011 and 2014. Coach Scott Roberston explained:

“As soon as you see a picture you get a connection in your head, which connects to feelings. You want people to feel and become emotive, and invest their interest in that common goal.

“We changed up our defence. More around knocking people out and more inventive, more aggressive words. We used a lot of our boxing themes.”

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