You could make a strong case that the 2017 championship won by the Crusaders is the most impressive in the franchise’s history. And there would be many points to back up that assertion.
For starters, this was head coach Scott Robertson’s first season in charge. After eight title-less seasons under Todd Blackadder, Robertson was seen by some as a surprise choice to be given the reins, given he’d been recruited from outside of the franchise.
However, he did have a proven winning coaching record, and can now boast becoming the first man to win a Super Rugby title as a player and coach.
This Crusaders team is also the first since, well, the Crusaders in 2000, to win a title overseas.
They had to play the Lions in front of 62,000 fans in Johannesburg at altitude, one week after the Hurricanes were blown away in the second half of their semi-final at the same venue.
They also played without Keiran Read for much of this season because of a broken thumb. Not that it slowed them down from compiling a 14-1 record, and a second placing to the Lions in the overall standings.
The Lions were accused of having a soft schedule that didn’t include playing any of the New Zealand franchises this year. For the Crusaders though, they battled through six tough encounters against fellow Kiwi teams, emerging from easily the most competitive Conference to finish as top dogs.
This is also the first title won by the Crusaders in the post McCaw-Carter era, with only Read, Wyatt Crockett and Tim Bateman being part of the 2008 championship squad.
Now fans can look at young stars like David Havili, Jack Goodhue and Richie Mo’unga and hope for more continued success under coach Robertson.
As is often the case, this win was built on a sound defensive platform. The Crusaders conceded only 30 points in three playoff matches and, as they say, defence wins championships.
Whichever way you cut it, this Crusaders team deserves to be remembered as one of the very best in Super Rugby history. And despite the shortcomings of an increasingly maligned competition, no one can rightfully argue they are not worthy winners.
It doesn’t seem to matter what governing body SANZAAR proposes for Super Rugby, it is likely to be met with ridicule.
This competition has expanded three times since 2005, from Super 12 to the now bloated 18-team affair we have had in the past two seasons.
But under increasing criticism and disenchantment (and declining crowds and viewers in Australia and South Africa), SANZAAR is treading the de-evolutionary path of going backwards to take this competition forward. Or so they think.
Reducing the competition to 15 is the stated goal, but may prove too difficult to pull off. We know two South African franchises (Cheetahs and Kings) have been moved on but the desired objective to remove an Australian team has been met by strong resistance from those most under threat — namely the Melbourne Rebels and Western Force.
Without boring down into tedious detail, there could yet be a lengthy legal battle ahead for the Australian Rugby Union which could totally screw up the grand plan of a rejigged Super 15 (didn’t we have that as recently as 2015?).
The divisional model confuses many, and with the exception of the New Zealand Conference, the competition is competitively very weak.
I find it very difficult to think an Argentine or Asian team will ever be a serious championship threat, and the fact this competition is now played over five continents (and too many time zones) has led to disinterest from fans, even in New Zealand.
Maybe it’ll be 16 teams, perhaps it’ll be 15 At this stage who would know? Certainly SANZAAR doesn’t, and that’s the big problem.
They have been greedy in chasing broadcast dollars from outer regions, and the quality of the competition has been severely compromised because of the perceived weakening of it.
Some fans want a round-robin format, although viewing numbers suggest local derbies are actually holding this competition together. But it is holding together barely, and at what point does it go snap?
Super Rugby is easily the most maligned professional competition in world sport. Pick a number, any number. I’m not sure it really matters.