Select Edition

Northern Northern
Southern Southern
Global Global

Why the All Blacks don't play anything like the Crusaders is beyond comprehension

Aaron Smith of New Zealand (r) talks with Rieko Ioane of New Zealand following the Autumn International match between Wales and New Zealand All Blacks at Principality Stadium on November 05, 2022 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

I’m assuming we all saw the same thing on Saturday night?

One team looking to play skillful, high-tempo rugby and the other just doing whatever it takes to win.


In that regard, the enterprising Chiefs didn’t look dissimilar to All Blacks sides of recent vintage, with the Crusaders resembling Ireland or France.

You can whinge about refereeing decisions during Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific final and you can argue that the Chiefs didn’t get the rub of the green.

Video Spacer

Video Spacer

But you also have to face the reality that the “good’’ guys don’t always win, in rugby matches of consequence.

Again, to go back to the top, I think we all recognise what happened in Hamilton on Saturday.

What I don’t get, though, is why All Blacks sides struggle to play like the Crusaders have for season after season.

I mean there are Crusaders in the All Blacks, after all. Guys who are masters at piling pressure on opponents and paring back game plans to suit the winner-takes-all circumstances of knockout footy.

How is it then that we increasingly look at the All Blacks as having a soft underbelly and of being unable to prevail when it really matters?


Is it coaching? Is it players? Will it all change when Scott Robertson eventually takes charge?

I watched Saturday night’s final and lamented Richie Mo’unga’s imminent three-year departure. I looked at his composure and ability to execute and couldn’t help thinking we simply don’t have another first five-eighths capable of delivering under pressure.

And yet, most of us would agree Mo’unga has never really been able to do for the All Blacks what he has so often done for the Crusaders.



Beyond whatever Ian Foster has or hasn’t told Mo’unga to do – during his many years as All Blacks assistant, then head coach – I come back to Beauden Barrett.

Now I’ve written often of my admiration for Barrett. Of the disservice I believe was done to him by the All Blacks and my belief that he should be an automatic choice at first-five.

I now think I was wrong. That I put too much store in Barrett’s performances in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and that his presence in the All Blacks’ squad has stifled Mo’unga’s development.

I still harbour a view that Barrett can be the player he once was, with New Zealand Warriors playmaker Shaun Johnson as an example.

I see parallels between Barrett and Johnson and think not all hope in the former is lost.

But it doesn’t change the fact that – in the Crusaders – we have the blueprint for sustained success and – in Mo’unga – a proven on-field driver of that success.

Only Mo’unga’s future lies elsewhere, beyond this season, and the All Blacks don’t play anything like the Crusaders do.

If that kind of rugby wasn’t in our DNA, then that wouldn’t bother so much.

But it is and many folk would have watched the Super Rugby Pacific final firm in the knowledge that the Crusaders would prevail.

That for all the brilliance of the Chiefs’ back-three and the unpredictability of Damian McKenzie, that the utterly predictable, completely reliable Crusaders would find a way to win.

I don’t know what the All Blacks will achieve this year, although I have to say I don’t look at the playing and coaching personnel and feel unbridled confidence.

But I do know – having seen the Crusaders do it for years and years and years – that there is a way to win games when it matters.

That substance is more valuable than style and that, actually, fans just want the All Blacks to win by whatever means necessary.


Join free



Trending on RugbyPass


Greg 371 days ago

Totally agree. BB is a better player when he makes contact. We saw how often DC - with no other options - took it to contact.

Jmann 384 days ago

Dude - we all know the reason. But then, look at what Smith accomplished with the BFs. Pure, joyous running rugby. With that he beat an hugely powerful, albeit utterly one-dimensional England squad (and indeed an equally impressive France team). It was a great day for rugby.

I was discussing this today with several international players (now coaches) they all have the same thought. The maul needs to change. No disrespect to Cody Taylor - but having a Hooker finish with 12/13 tries in SR is a nonsense.

There are several options, but I would favour a total ban of mauling inside the 22

of course the NH teams will never allow it and as usual it will take many years for the dinosaurs up there to finally accept something that SH teams have known for years now. Much like how they will shift to 20min RCs or use an orange card shortly.

Just introduce it in SR and watch.

Nickers 385 days ago

The reason the ABs don't play like the Crusaders is that international rugby is much more difficult than Super Rugby. An order of magnitude more difficult if you're talking about Ireland's defence. And players get away with penalties at SR level that is not tolerated by NH referees, allowing them to play the way they do.

Crusaders players do not come under the type of pressure at SR level that they do at international level, and likewise do not get such easy rewards for the exertion of pressure - Every time they applied pressure to the Chiefs, the Chiefs gave away a stupid penalty, earning the Crusaders endless free field position, territory, points, and ultimately the game.

Ireland, France, SA, England, even Australia and Argentina don't crack in the same way. We could have 20 phases inside Ireland's 5m and they would be more likely to win a penalty than we would be. They just absorb and absorb.

Is it a coincidence that Crusaders players like S. Barrett give away the most silly penalties for the ABs? They are not accustomed to playing long periods without reward because, for the most part, the competition they face at SR level is so far below international standard.

Pecos 385 days ago

No coincidence that the ABs started showing a little backbone once Jase Ryan arrived. He instills confidence. Foster? Not so much. Should've been sacked last year alongside his two personally selected assistants.

Willie 386 days ago

Why ?
Answer - Foster and there is no confidence here let alone the "unbridled" variety.
The Crusader's performance all season, against the injury odds, highlights the foolishness of not installing Robertson when the chance was presented last year.

Join free and tell us what you really think!

Sign up for free

Latest Features

Comments on RugbyPass

Turlough 5 hours ago
Jean de Villiers' three word response to 'best in the world' debate

This ‘raging’ debate is only happenning in media circles and has never been a topic in Ireland (although SA media are interested). It makes the media companies money I guess. SA are RWC champions and #1 ranked team although Ireland are back within a point there. The facts point to SA. For a lot of 2021 France beat ALL their rivals and Ireland similar in 2022-2023. It is not wrong to say that on such form either can be deemed to be the current best team if they have beaten all their rivals and ranked #1. The ‘have to have won a world cup’ stipulation is nonsense. The world cup draw and scheduling has been tailored to the traditional big teams since the start. The scheduling also which sees the big teams sheltered from playing a hard pool match the week before has also been a constant. It is extraordinary that for example France have made so many finals. Ireland who were realistically only contenders in 2023 were in a Pool with two other top 5 teams and had to play one of them 7 days before a quarter final against France or New Zealand. Always going to be a coin toss. Scotland’s situation was worse. New Zealand had great chances in 1995, 1999, 2007 but they could not win a tight RWC match. The first tight match they ever won was versus France in the 2011 final, literally they lost every other tight match before that. Some of those NZ teams around that era were #1 surely?

14 Go to comments
TRENDING All Blacks given upper hand as Fiji undergo travel hell on way to USA All Blacks given upper hand as Fiji undergo travel hell on way to USA