Despite what was a rollercoaster of a 2013 Super XV season, Crusaders remain one of the strongest powers in southern hemisphere rugby and will continue to challenge for silverware throughout the postseason.
This weekend, the Christchurch outfit will go up against the Queensland Reds in an attempt to meet either the Bulls or the Chiefs in a semifinal fixture.
Irrespective of their extra qualifier, however, Todd Blackadder’s men should remain as favourites to take home the title.
This season, the Crusaders’ biggest problem was without a shadow of a doubt their lack of consistency.
At times, the star-studded cast at Christchurch Stadium would dazzle with the type of rugby patrons would pay to come and watch. At others, it seemed as if another set of players had turned up for the game.
For example, while the season has taken on many unsavoury turns at times, there’s always been an outcome on the other end of the spectrum to turn things in the New Zealand franchise’s favour.
Over the last five months, the Crusaders have fallen victim to some teams one might not have predicted heading into the campaign including the Blues and Western Force.
However, wins over the Chiefs and Hurricanes in Rounds 19 and 20 of the regular season show that perhaps the Crusaders are entering a favourable run of form, especially when considering the scrappy yet effective mode with which they dealt with the latter of those two.
With the mercurial Dan Carter at 10, the seven-time giants will always have an assured and classy presence from the tee, something journalist Ben Coles confirmed on Twitter:
While the likes of Israel Dagg and Zac Guildford stand out as two of the back line’s more potent assets, a talented forward pack is helped leaps and bounds by the figures of Kieran Read, Tom Donnelly, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks and others.
However, the forward set to have the biggest role in the Crusaders’ qualifying hopes is the returning Richie McCaw, recently coming out of his rugby hiatus.
According to ABC, the New Zealand legend will play off the bench against the Reds, making his first appearance of the Super Rugby season.
McCaw is one of the few players in rugby who can quite literally tip the balance of a game pretty much single-handedly, with his skills at the breakdown and overall knowledge of the game an incredible asset to welcome back at this stage of the year.
Even if the Crusaders progress past their home qualifier against the Reds, they’ll face the Bulls in their semifinal, who they beat 41-19 in Round 5 of the season.
With that being the case, a final with the Chiefs would seem the most likely should they then move into the climax of the campaign, where neutral territory would see both teams—having beaten each other on home ground this season—play on a level field.
Although they’re outsiders to win honours at the moment, one can bet that the 2011 Super XV runners-up have enough in their tank to go on and win this year’s edition of the title.