8 Jul 2019

Crusaders: One of sport's greatest dynasties?

7:29 am on 8 July 2019

Analysis - The Crusaders have the chance to create a dynasty that's never been matched in Super Rugby.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson displays his trademark breakdancing routine after the Crusaders' 19-3 win over the Jaguares in the Super Rugby final.

Crusaders coach Scott Robertson displays his trademark breakdancing routine after the Crusaders' 19-3 win over the Jaguares in the Super Rugby final. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

They claimed their third consecutive title and 10th overall on Saturday night, beating Argentina's Jaguares 19-3 in Christchurch, matching the 'three-peat' of the Crusaders of 1998 to 2000.

They now haven't lost at home in over 30 matches.

Scott Robertson was a player in that 2000 team, and on the weekend became the first coach to win three straight crowns.

"To do it as a player and a coach is special and ... I'm getting a bit emotional talking about it. You know I've got a lot of All Blacks and a champion team, a great group, a lot of guys that are world class. My job is to get the best out of the group and carry on (winning) as long as we can."

So can they win four, or five, or six on the trot?

With Robertson at the helm it seems more than possible, but they do face some challenges.

Former All Black Robertson has been the lead architect in their climb back to the top of Super Rugby. He took over in 2017 and inherited a Crusaders team with an already storied history. They'd won seven titles and reached 11 finals, the most of any team.

However they hadn't won a title in eight seasons and had finished seventh the previous two years. People were starting to wonder if the Red and Blacks domination of the tournament had come to an end. The Crusaders mana was waning. Their claim to the throne weakening.

The breakdancing and affable Robertson worked wonders. Clearly a master at man management, he led the side to back to back titles in his first two years in charge.

The Crusaders quickly realised they had someone special, and have locked him up for another two years; if of course the All Blacks don't come knocking.

Robertson isn't shying away from his desire to win a fourth consecutive crown, something unprecedented.

"Oh I like that, yeah, that's a good start hahaha. I do think about those things, but I've got to keep myself in the present and, after we celebrate this one, start planning for what I'm going to do with these guys next year."

Jordan Taufua of the Crusaders celebrates . Crusaders vs. Jaguares. 2019 Investec Super Rugby Final. Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand. Saturday 6 July 2019. © Copyright Photo: Martin Hunter / www.photosport.nz

Crusaders celebrate a record 10th title. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2019

Assistant coach, former Ireland first-five Ronan O'Gara, said the club's culture is one of their keys to continued success.

"It's always been what's best for the team? What's best for the Crusaders? That's the beauty of this place, no one is bigger than the team. The collective is so much more important. Yeah it's a special club."

O'Gara is leaving the Garden City, in fact he's off tomorrow, to take over as head coach of French club La Rochelle.

His experience, and desire to one-day return, is another sign things are going well at Crusaders HQ.

"If the school was an example of the people of Christchurch then the people are brilliant. It [the whole experience] has been brilliant. The Crusaders, school and Christchurch in general, were so accommodating, so friendly, so warm. My kids are gutted to be leaving.

"With what happened earlier in the year (the March mosque terror attacks), the resilience of the city, the resilience of the people, the warmth of the people, great people. Fantastic city and area. I feel like there will be a twist in it and I'll be back, so it'll be with a heavy heart that I leave."

Off-field recruitment at the Crusaders has always been world class. They pinched the likes of Scott Barrett, their player of the year, from the Hurricanes catchment, Kieran Read comes from Pukekohe, Codie Taylor is from Levin, Sam Whitelock from Feilding. The list goes on.

Consistency too has been one of the cornerstones of the club's success. The team that beat the Hurricanes in the semi-finals in Christchurch had just one player missing from the run-on side that beat the Hurricanes in last year's final four. That change was new All Black wing Sevu Reece, for former All Black wing Seta Taminivalu.

That goes hand in hand with depth. The Crusaders have four All Black front rowers, three All Black locks, two All Black loose forwards, and six All Blacks in their backs (including the new caps), plus a couple on the brink.

That ability to roll out a near international side week in week out, and often bring in All Blacks to replace other injured All Blacks, gives Robertson and co an unmatched advantage when it comes to the toll of Super Rugby.

However, that could change.

The Crusaders are losing plenty of personnel for next season, including more than 10 players and coaches. All Blacks captain Read is off, as is All Black midfielder Ryan Crotty and prop Owen Franks. Flankers Matt Todd and Jordan Taufua are leaving, as is assistant coach and former Ireland international Ronan O'Gara. Captain and All Black veteran Sam Whitelock is taking a year's sabbatical. That leaves a hole they'll find tough to fill.

If anyone can plug those gaps though it is the Saders, they have depth in most positions already (look at Will Jordan in the backs, a standout player, but can barely get a look in). They have young All Blacks such as backs Richie Mo'unga, Jack Goodhue, Braydon Ennor and Reece locked down for the next few years. They're pretty well-off in the forwards too despite the loss of leadership, with Taylor, Scott Barrett and Joe Moody all coming back.

So what are the chances of a Crusaders three-peat becoming an unrivalled dynasty? Can they match the Montreal Canadians five straight Stanley Cup titles in the late '50s, or the Celtics eight consecutive NBA crowns?

I'd say they're more likely than any other team to win next year's competition, in fact they'll be pre-tournament favourites with the bookies by a Canterbury mile.

It's hard to see anyone usurping them from their throne anytime soon, especially not with "Razor" Robertson carving a legacy that is already unmatched in Super Rugby history.

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