2023 Chiefs vs Crusaders - FInal

Crusaders Take Super Rugby Title, Bid Farewell to Robertson In Style

Crusaders Take Super Rugby Title, Bid Farewell to Robertson In Style

After two defeats earlier in the season to Chiefs, Crusaders got redemption in the sweetest of ways in this weekend’s 2023 Super Rugby Pacific final.

Jun 24, 2023 by Briar Napier
Crusaders Take Super Rugby Title, Bid Farewell to Robertson In Style

The great dynasty in Super Rugby history ends how it began.

With the Crusaders ahead of everybody else.

After two defeats earlier in the season to the Chiefs, their opponent in this weekend’s 2023 Super Rugby Pacific final, the Crusaders got redemption in the sweetest of ways and continued the most successful stretch by a single club ever seen in the competition.

Following their victory on the road to close out the 2023 season and clinch yet another piece of hardware to take back to Christchurch, the Crusaders—now winners of five straight proper Super Rugby titles, plus two regional competition trophies—officially ended the tenure of coach Scott Robertson with an exclamation point as he’ll depart the club in the offseason. 

It’s been a joy (unless your team has fallen victim to them, which has happened often over the past few seasons) to watch the Crusaders play rugby Robertson’s way since his appointment, and when a new man takes charge for next season, it will probably never truly be the same. 

Robertson’s run of success with the Crusaders was one of a kind, and until another team arrives and knocks them off their perch, there’s little reason to believe that the powerhouse of Super Rugby won’t keep humming along in pursuit of another one.

The Crusaders being champions is a familiar tune, sure. But this one, as club legends say their goodbyes for other pastures, is that much more special for a juggernaut that’s made tough wins look routine.

Here’s a look back at the final that was Saturday, with the Crusaders once again taking home a Super Rugby title as they defeated the Chiefs in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Super ‘Saders On Top Again

Rugby union has been in its professional era for 28 years. The Crusaders have captured a league title in some form in half of them. The Christchurch-based steamroller added to its trophy tally once again by winning title No. 12 (14 if you count the two regionalized, COVID-caused competitions in 2020 and 2021. 

This time the win came over the Chiefs by a 25-20 scoreline in front of a raucous away crowd at the FMG Stadium Waikato, the support silenced in Hamilton behind a brace from Codie Taylor and a try plus kicks from Richie Mo’unga in likely his final Crusaders match. After Mo’unga (who has signed on to play at club level in Japan) struck first for the visitors with a penalty kick, the Chiefs’ Shaun Stevenson—one of the top breakout stars of the competition this season with 11 tries—was the first man to cross over for either side. 

A Damian McKenzie penalty and conversion on each side of the try made it 10-3, briefly, for the Chiefs, who were chasing their first Super Rugby crown since going back-to-back in 2012 and 2013. 

Taylor’s first of the evening came in the 28th minute as the Crusaders took advantage of the hosts going down to 14 men following a yellow card from Luke Jacobson, while Mo’unga’s five-pointer (plus his own conversion to make it seven) came in the 36th minute to give the ‘Saders a 15-10 advantage at the intermission. 

The Chiefs’ second-half response was initially strong, finding paydirt through speedy Fijian winger Emoni Narawa three minutes into the second period as kicks from McKenzie that followed gave the Chiefs a 20-15 lead that they’d hold until the final 10 minutes. 

But you don’t win seven straight titles in all competitions without having a never-say-die attitude, and the Crusaders came alive when a response was demanded. A Sam Cane yellow put the Chiefs a man down once again in the 72nd minute, and Taylor got his second try a minute later with the advantage as a Mo’unga kick made it 22-20. 

A further Chiefs penalty as they were scrambling for a late winner gave Mo’unga a final penalty kick after full time for emphasis, which he drilled through to send Robertson and himself to new phases in their careers in a fitting, triumphant way, as champions.

The Razor’s Edge

Robertson is known about as much for his celebratory break-dancing after victories as the Crusaders’ routine domination of opponents during his decorated reign from 2016 to 2023. Robertson (also known by his nickname, Razor) will take over for Ian Foster as the New Zealand national team’s boss following the World Cup. 

He leaves behind a monstrous legacy at the club where he also won four Super Rugby titles as a player, earning the right to be called the ringmaster behind the greatest dynasty in the competition’s history. During every year as coach of the Crusaders, Robertson won some silverware. 

Whatever the ‘Saders faced, Robertson was helping to lead them to the top of the pile more often than not. During the 117 matches he coached from the touchline, the Crusaders won 98 of them—a Super Rugby record for one coach, passing the prior record of 89 set by former Crusaders boss Robbie Deans. He lost only 17 and drew two. 

Robertson became the first head coach to win Super Rugby titles in each of his first three seasons by capturing league championships in 2017, 2018 and 2019, won both Super Rugby Aotearoa competitions the next two years and won both titles to date in the Pacific era. 

The only possible trophy that Robertson didn’t win as Crusaders coach was the one-off Trans-Tasman competition in late 2021 (of which the team only missed qualifying for the final on point differential) between Australia and New Zealand’s Super Rugby sides in the COVID restrictions era, but other than that, Robertson and the Crusaders gobbled up any trophy that they could find. 

He’s a proven, consistent winner on one of the top stages in the world in club rugby, and for an All Blacks support and board that does not tolerate anything short of world domination, it’s exactly the type of track record they need.

Who’s Next—If Anyone?

Super Rugby Pacific is bound to go through a shake-up next season with an exodus of talent, both on and off the pitch. That means that the field is liable to be as wide-open as it’s been in a half-decade-plus. 

Robertson's and Mo’unga’s departures from the Crusaders will mark the end of a gilded era for the club as Mo’unga in particular has evolved into one of the finest in the world at his position. 

He won’t be the only Super Rugby star moving away this offseason: national-side teammates Beauden Barrett, Aaron Smith and Shannon Frizell (all of whom played in Super Rugby this past season) are among the other top players signed to play in Japan in 2024. That opens the door for clubs able to retain talent, giving them an opportunity to grab hold of the first-place trophy next season. 

Who is going to step up, then? The Crusaders are near-certain to be in the mix again due to their sheer amount of talent, even with a new coach incoming in former Canterbury, Munster and New South Wales Waratahs leader Rob Penney. 

The Chiefs should be strong once again under coach Clayton McMillan following their best season in 10 years, topping the regular-season table and hosting a final. Especially if the likes of McKenzie and Stevenson keep their form. 

There’s also the Blues, who were 2022 finalists and third in the table this season, though they will also have a new dugout boss. 

And what about Australia and the Pacific islands? The Brumbies have been the Land Down Under’s best-performing side in every year since 2018 as they look at the moment to be the country’s best hope to end a championship drought, with no Aussie Super Rugby championships since the Waratahs won in 2014. 

As for the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika, they both have a long way to go before title contention, but the Drua’s playoff qualification in their second year—plus a historic win over the Crusaders in the regular season—were major milestones for the team as they and the rest of the rugby-mad Pacific islands find their footing in an elite club rugby competition. 

Make no mistake, though—this is the Crusaders’ world until further notice, and no matter who is in charge or who suits up next year in Super Rugby, the expectation across the organization is to win again and merely add onto its legendary status.