2023 Chiefs vs Crusaders - FInal

Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs In Way Of Grand Finale For Crusaders' Robertson

Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs In Way Of Grand Finale For Crusaders' Robertson

The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season began with the Crusaders taking on the Chiefs. It’ll end that way, too, as the two juggernauts meet in the final.

Jun 22, 2023 by Briar Napier
Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs In Way Of Grand Finale For Crusaders' Robertson

The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific season began with the Crusaders taking on the Chiefs.

It’ll end that way, too.

On Feb. 24, the New Zealand-based rivals kicked off the campaign when the Chiefs stormed into Orangetheory Stadium and shocked the defending champions in a fairly-lopsided defeat, indicating there could be a changing of the guard in Super Rugby after years of ‘Saders dominance. 

On June 24, the Chiefs can beat the Crusaders again to officially confirm that is the case.

But take something very important into account: this is the Crusaders in the finals. They haven’t been beaten in the playoffs of the non-regionalized competitions since 2016. 

Toppling the machine at this point of the season, no matter where or in what conditions the rugby is being played, is a task no one has done in Super Rugby’s normal format for six years, and few have even had a realistic chance of doing so.

The hours are counting down until the world finds out whether or not the greatest dynasty in Super Rugby history can continue (and a proper sendoff for one of the most decorated coaches in the competition’s history can happen with it), or if the empire comes crashing down when a challenger arrives and reclaims the throne after a decade away. 

It’s been a wild several months in the South Pacific, but a final featuring the two best teams in Super Rugby Pacific this season – the Chiefs and the Crusaders, No. 1 and 2 in the regular season, respectively – should make for a fitting conclusion to another campaign of arguably the best club rugby league in the world.

Sit back, enjoy and watch the spectacle unfold.

Here’s a look at this year’s Super Rugby Pacific final between the Chiefs and the Crusaders, scheduled to kick off at the FMG Stadium Waikato on Saturday at 3:05 a.m. Eastern. It will be streamed live in the United States exclusively on FloRugby.

Crusaders (Christchurch, New Zealand)

Super Rugby titles: 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020*, 2021*, 2022

* Denotes regionalized competition due to COVID-19 pandemic

Regular season: 48 points, second

How they got here: Def. Fijian Drua 49-8 in quarterfinals, Blues 52-15 in semifinals

The lowdown: The Scott Robertson renaissance with the Crusaders began in June 2016, when “Razor,” a former player for both the club and the New Zealand national team, was appointed as the head coach in the wake of a disappointing seventh-place table finish and quick exit from the playoff quarterfinals. 

He immediately rocketed the team toward the top of the standings, becoming just the second first-year coach to win a Super Rugby title (after Dave Rennie did it with the Chiefs in 2012), and was heavily influential in helping the team stay there.

The Crusaders have embarked on the most dominant period of winning the competition has ever seen. 

With knowledge that Robertson’s final match with the Crusaders will take place this weekend – he’s been confirmed to be taking over the head coaching duties for the All Blacks in place of the embattled Ian Foster following the Rugby World Cup – his legendary reign in Christchurch, along with all the spoils it contained, has the opportunity to come to a satisfying and fitting conclusion. 

Already holders of the longest consecutive championship streak in Super Rugby history with four straight (plus more if you count the pandemic-caused regional competitions in 2020 and 2021), the Crusaders could add even more gold to a gilded era in the club’s history. 

Even with the club having to play the final on the road, as it is not the top seed, picking the Crusaders to emerge victorious in a winner-take-all match – just like they’ve done so many times in Robertson’s tenure – is far from a shortsighted choice. 

The squad is stacked with some of the best players in the world, and multiple players who will play pivotal roles in France later this year at the World Cup for New Zealand.

There are 10 players from the Crusaders roster who were named to Foster’s 36-man squad for next month’s Rugby Championship, including stars of the show, such as Sam Whitelock, Richie Mo’unga and Codie Taylor, plus uncapped players who have showed plenty of promise, including prop Tamaiti Williams and center Dallas McLeod. 

Their chances will be dinged a bit by the fact that they won’t be hosting the final at the near-impenetrable Orangetheory Stadium, which (plus their first home at Lancaster Park) hasn’t seen a Crusaders playoff defeat in an incredible 29 matches, but this is Crusaders rugby in the finals, after all. 

It’s a different beast – but more often than not, it produces the same, devastating results upon opponents. 

Thus, the Crusaders will try to reminisce for old time’s sake in Hamilton, as for the last time in the Robertson era, the team will aim to put up a classic performance that’s champion-worthy and celebrate the haul of yet another piece of silverware back to Christchurch.

Chiefs (Hamilton, New Zealand)

Super Rugby titles: 2012, 2013

Regular season: 59 points, first

How they got here: Def. Queensland Reds 29-20 in quarterfinals, Brumbies 19-6 in semifinals

The lowdown: When you analyze some of the best runs of form in the history of the Chiefs, look for patterns and the peculiar. 

Here’s one example – the club’s back-to-back titles a decade ago both came with wins against the Crusaders in the playoffs. 

Here’s another – their club record 13 regular-season wins this campaign saw two come against the Crusaders, making them the only club in Super Rugby to defeat the long-running champions twice this season. 

And, here’s one more – no team this year held the Crusaders to fewer points in a single match than the Chiefs did in Round 1, in the very first game of the 2023 season, when the juggernaut was held to a measly 10 points in a loss. 

So, what’s the point of all of that information? When the Chiefs beat the Crusaders, good things tend to happen to them. 

In a few days, that theory could extend all the way to the Chiefs third Super Rugby title. 

Unquestionably the competition’s best side all season, a single slip-up against the Reds in the regular season was the misfire separating the Chiefs from a perfect season, and even that defeat was rectified when coach Clayton McMillan and his men got redemption over the Reds by defeating them in the quarterfinals. 

They topped the table and captured the top seed in the finals by 11 points, have had a brilliant return campaign from star man Damian McKenzie – who returned after a season in Japan to put up a league-best 181 points, as he preps for a near-certain World Cup run with the All Blacks – and have won eight straight home playoff matches, all facts that side in the Chiefs’ favor, as they are just 80 minutes away from a monumental moment in their history. 

Why a Chiefs win would be such a colossal occasion, however, is two-fold.

A Chiefs title would not only make them the fourth club (along with the Blues, Crusaders and South Africa’s Bulls) to win at least three Super Rugby championships, but it also would make them the team responsible for ending the Crusaders long, powerful reign of dominance. 

Indeed, there’s no reason for the Chiefs to come into the final intimidated – even with the Crusaders’ decorated history in that match in particular – due to their recent history against the dynasty showing they not only can beat them, they can dominate them if they’re precise and clinical on the pitch. 

So, with all that being said and with past results between the two in 2023 in mind, there arguably hasn’t been a tougher opponent for the Crusaders to tame in their stretch of title wins than this season’s Chiefs team. 

Third time could be the charm for the visitors, of course, but the Chiefs haven’t let opportunities slip all season – and there’s little reason, especially this late in the year, to expect that they won’t take advantage if one arrives.