The least surprising news of the week, or even the year really, was the crowning of the Crusaders as Super Rugby Aotearoa champions. Maybe, if you were in a trolling mood, you could point to the fast-start, false- finish Blues as even more predictable, but we'll let the winners write this history.
That's 12 titles, 10 of them Sanza(a)r-wide efforts, two of them regional. The Crusaders now have the opportunity to win two titles in a matter of months as Super Rugby Transtasman kicks off. That should help sate the appetites of those in the South Island who are still hungry after eight trophyless campaigns from 2008 to Scott Robertson.
We know silverware is nice, but we also know not all victories are created equal.
Yep, you guessed it: it's time to Power Rank the Crusaders 12 titles.
12. 2021 – Super Rugby Aotearoa
Final: Crusaders 24 Chiefs 13
The opposite of the "recency bias" that plagues so many inferior Rankings, the Crusaders victory on Saturday night felt like one of professional sport's ultimate feel-nothing moments. Sure, it meant something to the players and coaches, the people of Christchurch and the guests of the Novotel Cathedral Square, but for the neutral it was a case of watch it, yawn and move on.
11. 2008 – Super 14
Final: Crusaders 20 Waratahs 12
The year of the much-maligned ELVs. It wasn't a great one for rugby and waaaay too many New Zealanders still hadn't got over a certain test match the year before. This campaign was all about a spurned Robbie Deans adding another trinket before leaving for the Wallabies. He did that via a lacklustre final notable mainly for Brad Thorn costing his side a try and getting himself on the naughty seat for throwing a punch at a New South Welshman – something the Queenslander is pretty much pre-programmed to do.
10. 2006 – Super 14
Final: Crusaders 19 Hurricanes 12
The only thing fascinating about the 2006 campaign was the courtroom shenanigans in South Africa after they introduced relegation so they could find a place for the Southern Spears in 2007. That would have seen the relegation of the Cats, who were in the process of becoming the Lions. It didn't happen. Oh, and the Crusaders won a one-try final nobody could see because of low-lying sea fog. Hurricanes captain Tana Umaga made sure all talk of the match quickly dissipated by whacking intoxicated teammate Chris Masoe over the head with a handbag at the Jolly Poacher pub. On second thoughts, maybe this campaign is ranked too low.
9 & 8. 2019 & 2018 – Super Rugby
Final '19: Crusaders 19 Jaguares 3
Final '18: Crusaders 37 Lions 18
Both these Robertson-inspired titles sit lower than they might because the tournament was broken. The conference system, the presence of a woeful Sunwolves team, an Australian conference that across the two years went 63-1-96 sunk Super Rugby's credibility an added an air of inevitability to the Crusaders' success. The latter final at least had a new face, but there was only ever going to be one winner.
7. 1999 – Super 12
Final: Highlanders 19 Crusaders 24
There was a party at Tony Brown's place but the Crusaders played Noise Control. Not their finest campaign, but an extraordinary final two weeks, winning a semifinal at Ballymore and a final at the 'Brook.
6. 2005 – Super 12
Final: Crusaders 35 Waratahs 25
The last campaign in the classic Super 12 format. Geez we loved footy back then, with the Crusaders averaging home crowds of close to 30,000, with the old Lancaster Park fair humming. Rico Gear couldn't stop scoring tries and a young Dan Carter at the peak of his first-phase-of-his-career powers. The Crusaders beat a strong Waratahs side in a decent final.
5. 2002 – Super 12
Final: Crusaders 31 Brumbies 13
A brilliant, unsentimental campaign. The Crusaders were unbeaten and destroyed the Brumbies in the final. The current best coach in the world was playing No 8, while the current under-pressure New Zealand Rugby chief executive lined up at centre. Unlucky not to be higher.
4. 2020 – Super Rugby Aotearoa
It's probably too high, but go complain to someone else. Context is everything and the first SRA was a joyous and, with hindsight, possibly irresponsible celebration of sport played against the backdrop of the pandemic that still plagues the world today. The Crusaders were worthy winners despite a strong challenge from the resurgent Blues, winning seven of their eight brutal derbies.
3. 2017 – Super Rugby
Final: Lions 17 Crusaders 25
Absence had made Cantabs' hearts grow anxious. After eight barren campaigns they wanted this badly and with the dynamic presence of Robertson at the helm, there was an unknown quantity to the red and blacks. This was a strange tournament involving 18 teams, two groups and four conferences but what was not weird was that by far and away the best two teams made the final. The Lions and Crusaders had finished group play at 14-1 and had won their respective semifinals comfortably against the Hurricanes and Chiefs. The final was the first played in the republic since 2010, featured 62,000 roaring spectators and a Kwagga Smith moment of madness that tilted the odds in the visitors' favour. These Rankings would venture the opinion that only the Crusaders could have beaten the Lions in that final until that pressure.
2. 1998 – Super 12
Final: Blues 13 Crusaders 20
The Crusaders sucked pus in Super 12's inaugural season and were meh in 1997. They started slowly in 1998 but then the big brain of Wayne Smith started to reveal itself. Still, the conventional wisdom held that a thrilling 36-32 win over the Sharks in the semifinal only served to give them the best seat in Eden Park as the peerless Blues romped to a hattrick of titles. "If we'd been polled in that week, and had to give an honest answer, most of the boys, deep down, would probably have thought that the Blues would beat us," hooker Mark Hammett said. The Blues were a better side, too, but the Crusaders kept it close and in the final minute the home team melted under pressure. They had a parade in Christchurch and it was mobbed.
1. 2000 – Super 12
Final: Brumbies 19 Crusaders 20
When Smith took his talents overseas he was replaced by the manager Robbie Deans, which goes to show you… actually, scratch that, who knows what that shows you. After the All Blacks capitulated against France in 1999 there was a narrative emerging that New Zealand rugby was the home of the choker. This dramatic, astounding final win against a brilliant Eddie Jones-coached Brumbies side was peak anti-choking.
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