There’s a certain type of rivalry that exists between the Crusaders and the other New Zealand Super Rugby teams, all with quirks and plenty of water under the bridge.
Crusaders v Blues has always felt like town versus country. Crusaders v Hurricanes has a sense of regional pride. Crusaders v Highlanders is the the ultimate South Island battle.
But what defines the rivalry between the Crusaders and the Chiefs? It’s a question worth asking as we count down the hours to the DHL Super Rugby Pacific Grand Final on Saturday 24 June.
For years, both sides have been commended for their power, their defence, their determination. A combination of excellence and performance, a clash of a rock and a hard place, two champions of the sport butting heads with big fanbases on both sides. That’s what we’ve come to expect from any clash between these two.
The Chiefs and Crusaders have played each other 46 times in Super Rugby, the Crusaders edging their northern rivals with a 58.7% win rate. No other team has a higher win rate against the red and black (41%) than the Chiefs.
It’s been a mixed bag of results in the last 10 clashes, the Chiefs winning four to the Crusaders six. But the Chiefs beat the Crusaders in both of their last two meetings.
The Chiefs have won two titles, winning back to back in 2012 and 2013 under coach Dave Rennie. Since then they’ve been chasing that glorious feeling of victory. To bitter the pill, the Chiefs last two play-off losses were to the boys in red and black.
They were beaten in the final of 2021 Super Rugby Aotearoa, 24-13 to the Crusaders, and then again in the semi-final of 2022 Super Rugby Pacific 20-7, again to the Crusaders. Both under new-ish coach Craig McMillan.
The Crusaders are chasing their seventh title in a row – their 14th overall. There’s been a lot of talk about the Crusaders needing to be tipped over for the good of the game. Seven titles in a row is boring for the fans. Talent needs to be spread. Poppies shouldn’t grow this tall.
It’s easy to forget perhaps that pretty much a third of current New Zealand Super Rugby players have come through the Crusaders Academy, fostered by the wider Crusaders coaching group and an environment at Rugby Park built by title wins and consistent success.
Some huge figures of New Zealand rugby, both from the last few decades and looking into the future, are hanging up their boots at Rugby Park after the ‘23 final. A record-breaking title win would be a fitting send off for Scott Robertson, Scott Hansen, Sam Whiteock, Richie Mo’unga and Leicester Faing’anuku. No doubt there are other player movements yet to come post-season, so emotions will be running high at FMG Stadium Waikato come 7pm Saturday.
And so with plenty of history past, and a heap of pride on the line, we go again.