Seven titles from thirteen attempts. A better than 50% competition winning strike rate —need we say much more?
They have led the charge exhibited by New Zealand teams, who have won ten of the titles since the competition conception in 1996.
While New Zealand teams are known for their individual brilliance and often freewheeling attack and on field styles—it has been a distinctively unique approach that has allowed Canterbury to hold the maxim “a champion team is better than a team of champions”.
However the Crusaders have been fortunate to hold both, no doubt a champion team, but always littered with a healthy spread of champion players.
We think of Canterbury, and a plethora of words spring to mind - control, execution, poise and a magnificently balanced style of play. That they have wielded world class coaches (Wayne Smith and Robbie Deans) and some of the finest players of the modern era has helped. But as other equally equipped sporting teams can attest, this is not enough.
But they are as close to the complete package as Rugby team can be. They are strong in all facets of the set piece, powerful in the scrum, reliable in the air, and nearly all powerful with the control of the all important ruck.
But it is the execution of a game plan so simple but so brilliant that gives them there power. They will happily play the percentages, defend with the marshalling prowess of an impenetrable army, but then implement the most dangerous element of their play.
That of capitalising on oppositions mistakes, driving down the field efficiently through accurate kicking or quick linking play that often ends in scoring tries. No team in world rugby displays the military precision that Canterbury is known for.
And no team builds through the season, and knows how to shut out a game, like the Crusaders.
Boasting New Zealand’s oldest union, dating back to 1879, the beginning of professionalism was unkind to Canterbury.
They finished last in the inaugural Super 12 in 1996, and fielded just one All Black from the previous end of year tour to Italy and France.
It was here that Steve Tew, former Canterbury boss and now the head honcho for the All Blacks, decided to pull together the union and effectively re-write how the Crusaders and their seven provinces of the upper South Island operated.
They moved away from the recruitment of players, and focused on the culture and development of players and support staff in the region. It was here that the conscription of Canterbury began, ensuring the blend of the province and Super franchise were analogous.
Over a hundred years of successful Canterbury culture was tapped – or loaned to the Crusaders franchise—as Steve Tew describes. It was the repetition of the values and culture of the famous red and blacks that enabled them to become the strongest domestic power in world rugby.
Wayne Smith and his successor Robbie Deans were both Canterbury legends, both prominent in the 1982-1985 Ranfurly Shield reign—where the team held the log o wood for 25 successful defences (the joint second longest reign in history).
Former Canterbury skipper Don Hayes has been the team’s campaign manager, former Canterbury lock Tony Thorpe has been the team manager. Former hooker Mark Hammett is now an assistant coach, and now former red and black legend Todd Blackadder has taken over as the Crusaders head coach.
That the union is now regarded as one of the world’s preeminent production lines of world class players is no accident; it is the hard work of over ten years of blood, sweat and toil by men who hold the team and province in their blood.
The NZRU recognises this as well, with Jack Hobbs and Steve Tew, the chairman and CEO of New Zealand rugby both former Canterbury players.
From Duncan McGregor (a member of the 1905 Originals) Canterbury has fielded a who’s who of New Zealand rugby greats. Wilson Whineray, Tane Norton, Fergie McCormick, Ian Kirkpatrick, Alex Wyllie and Kelvin Tremain are but a few legends of the game who wore red and black colours.
In the modern era it continued, with Norm Maxwell, Greg Feek and Scott Robinson – and more recently Andrew Mehrtens, Justin Marshall, Chris Jack and Aaron Mauger. All of these mentioned players were pillars of the great team, but were also some of the finest men to pull on the dreaded black representation of the national team.
They now field two players mentioned as possibly the finest players of their generation that of All Black captain Richie McCaw and the world’s finest first five, Dan Carter. Both will no doubt go on to become two of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
Carter and Deans will be absent from the Crusades this year, but as history and tradition have been strong to point out, no two men make the Canterbury team.
Canterbury Crusaders roll of honour
· Champions (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008)
· Runners Up (2003, 2004)
· Only team to go through season undefeated (2002)
· Most points posted in a season = 541 (2005)
· Most consecutive home games won = 26 (Feb 2004 to May 2007)
· Match record, most points (96), most tries (14), winning margin (77) V NSW 96-19 (2002)
· Only team to win 100 games in Super Rugby
· Best home and best away winning percentage
Likely Starting XV for 2009:
15 – Leon Macdonald, 14 – Jared Payne, 13 – Casey Laulau, 12 – Tim Bateman, 11 – Kade Poki, 10 – Stephen Brett, 9 – Andrew Ellis, 8 – Thomas Waldrom, 7 – Richie McCaw, 6 – Kieran Read, 5 – Ross Filipo, 4 – Brad Thorn, 3 – Ben Franks, 2 – Corey Flynn, 1 – Wyatt Crockett