Super Rugby

Can SA rugby really afford to 'bin' the Crusaders?

Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders
Richie Mo'unga of the Crusaders
Hannah Peters/Getty Images
  • As the Crusaders continue to wow with the calibre of their rugby, it begs the question of how much SA might miss them.
  • The "Cape Crusaders" always help ensure bumper gate takings at Newlands whenever the NZ side faces the Stormers.
  • The Cantabrians are unmatched by any major franchise/club team the world over for consistent majesty in modern times.

For the biggest sense of modern-day aura and sparkling entertainment value among rugby franchises or clubs the world over, it is hard to look beyond the Crusaders.

Or put it this way: if the legendary New Zealand outfit played a hypothetical two-leg, home-and-away tussle against any other equivalent-level team to determine global bragging rights, would you dare to back the opposition?

I hope I wouldn't be so foolish.  

Oozing players who either represent the always high-riding All Blacks or are bubbling invitingly under the national team, the Cantabrians continue to be standard bearers in excellence and ambition.

That so clearly hasn't changed one bit in 2020: they were menacingly placed in the Super Rugby competition-proper when the plug was pulled in March - a point behind the Sharks with a game in hand - and now seem set to clinch the rejigged, all-domestic Super Rugby Aotearoa title a week before the final round.

A home win over the Highlanders, something they will be heavily tipped to achieve, on Sunday (05:35 SA time) will be enough to clinch the crown, leaving their tricky final-round clash with the Blues in Auckland as a dead rubber, mere celebratory affair.

While not the "proper" silverware considering the extraordinary year sport is having due to Covid-19, in many respects they will be able to lay claim, against such a backdrop, to winning a Super Rugby-standard competition for an unprecedented fourth year in a row.

They have already won broader Super Rugby three times in a row twice: 1998-2000, and 2017-2019.

The Crusaders are also responsible for 10 title successes in 24 attempts since the competition's pro-era beginnings in 1996 … or a greedy 41.66% of the time, way ahead of the next best Bulls and Blues with three titles each (a percentage a vastly lesser 12.5 in each instance).

That is much more marked dominance than, for example, Leicester's title supremacy in England's Premiership, where the Tigers have also won 10 times, but from 32 tournaments since inception in 1987/88 (so 31.25%) - and not since the 2012/13 season.

While Saracens have won the title four times in the last five attempts (and five times in total), remember that the north Londoners have been relegated for 2020/21 over salary cap breaches.

Meanwhile the PRO14, increasingly tipped to pluck away South Africa's four premier franchises from Super Rugby pretty soon, has had six different winners in the 10 completed seasons since 2009/10.

France? The Top 14 has had a completely different winner for each of the six seasons from 2013/14 onward, so there's no recent, single consistent "juggernaut" to speak of.

The Crusaders, then, are almost indisputably the global dream team when it comes to activity just one notch down from Test level.

And it is that kind of magnificence that South Africa will be saying goodbye to as a truly blue-chip opponent if the country shifts emphasis - lock, stock and barrel - to PRO14.

Almost all NZ foes are formidable obstacles, of course, but I probably wouldn't be alone from these shores in especially lamenting the sudden loss of the 'Saders as supreme testers, every year, of the mettle of our various own franchises if that's what happens.

They just seem to play rugby at a different, routinely more revolutionary and crowd-pleasing level than any other team - a hallmark evident all over again in Aotearoa, even if certain gallant foes have run them close for solid periods during matches in a broadly high-quality competition.

We might well miss them more than we imagine if they cease their visits to South Africa, and I fancy they would miss us more than a bit, too.

A little like a "Manchester United" in a global-appeal sense, the Crusaders, never forget, have a far from negligible support base on our very soil.

More particularly, the so-called Cape Crusaders, like them or not, are fervent devotees who help make Newlands a jam-packed, emotion-charged place whenever they tackle the Stormers there: not the worst development for the sometimes hard-pressed bean counters there.

There's a rich heritage of matches, whether here or in New Zealand, between the 'Saders and South African opponents.

Off the top of my head, I'm remembering that 2010 Newlands clash when Francois Louw thoroughly bossed Richie McCaw at the breakdown and Jaque Fourie got a brace of tries in a 42-14 thumping of the visitors, and the 'Saders, by contrast, putting 50 points on the shell-shocked Sharks in Durban in 2015.

Then there's the Christchurch drought-breaking 30-25 outcome in the favour of the same Sharks only a year before, when they rightly celebrated as though they'd won a Test match, some rousing Bulls semi-final home triumphs over them at the height of the Meyer/Ludeke era, and the visitors' fine feat in the 2017 Ellis Park final (against the Lions) of becoming the first team yet to cross the Indian Ocean to seize the title.

But it's bye-bye to those bastions of brilliance from Christchurch if South Africa shifts emphasis more all-embracingly to the "north".

Shouldn't we just pause to chew on that more thoroughly for a while?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing