The 2018 Super Rugby Champions will be decided tonight. It’s between the Crusaders and Lions, where one team will triumph – and one team will reap the benefits.
Fame, notoriety, increased exposure and personal success. All those team goals can be accomplished in one night, in the most competitive professional rugby competition on the rugby-globe; Super Rugby.
The winning team earns the crown. They are Super Rugby Champions but, there is so much more. That crown is worn after others have passed before them. The lineage is rich and on this ‘Grand Final day’ worth recalling.
If the crown fits, wear it: Super Rugby Champions
Many sides that have risen to the top, have gone on to create a Dynasty. From the pre-millennial Blues, to the composed ACT Brumbies and the hard-nosed Bulls from South Africa. Many winning sides redefined their status in domestic and International rugby – the Chiefs and Highlanders, to name a couple – and undoubtedly for both sides, after this Saturday night’s game, each can write new history in their record books.
With elevation to the heights of Super Rugby success, it can see players within the team be rewarded with a national jersey. Some would gain representative caps, while others would continue to be first-pick leaders that would lead to even higher honours; Tri-Nations, Rugby Championships and even Rugby World Cup crowns.
But let’s not anoint these two teams just yet. There is still 80 minutes of pressure-cooker rugby football to be played;
Crusaders v Lions – 7:35pm. AMI Stadium, Christchurch
— Planet Rugby (@PlanetRugby) August 2, 2018
Which of the former Super Rugby Champions wore it well?
Given that crown, fans and commentators may contest which of the franchises in the last 23 years ‘wore it well’. Many will quickly point to the most successful team; the Crusaders [an obvious pick].
But even before the Grand Final, evidence exists that several former Super Rugby Champions are worthy of recognition.
If any side has ‘over achieved’ in Super Rugby, then some might say it was the Bulls. A revelation, and for the South African supporters of the SANZAAR competition it was ‘about time’.
Their time had come, and gladly the African competition participation stood tallest. With Victor Matfield, Bakkies Botha and Pierre Spies, this team claimed three titles across four seasons. Add in the solid kicking, obliterating scrum and defence, and the Bulls were definitely a side who conquered the Super Rugby competition.
That is not to forget, an RWC title in 2007 for the Springboks. So in fact, the Bulls really did have to wear two crowns at once….a magnificent feat.
ACT Brumbies: 2001/2002
Post the 1999 Wallabies Rugby World Cup victory, the Australian teams were hissing. That modern term means that the Super Rugby sides were supremely confident. Reaching multiple playoffs, the Aussie teams of that era were far superior; after winning their second RWC crown.
Eddie Jones would lead the franchise to their first ever title, before novice David Nucifora found the wealth of talent literally ‘too easy’ to coach; as they scored back-to-back titles. That was the pinnacle, as soon afterwards the franchise slumped toward the depths, so in fact the ‘crowning’ glory for this squad began in 1999 (finishing in fifth place).
Making the 2000 final was just the perfect example of an dynasty in creation. And then two seasons of finals glory, where they reached the pinnacle of Southern hemisphere competition.
Note: star outside back Joe Roff (see main picture) held the try scoring record, until Ben Lam succeeded him this season. It shows a team who could attack, but also cut-off other teams possession.
Like so many others, the Waikato Chiefs team struggled for years. They had several appearances in the playoffs, but only once could they reach a Grand Final; 2009. But on that occasion, the Chiefs were blasted off the park, by the all conquering Bulls team. They found themselves on the short end of a record 61–17 defeat.
Over a three year period, post the Ian Foster direction, a new spirit arrived. Colin Cooper took over the team, enlisting Wayne Smith as a lieutenant. Strong cultural ties, leaders in Liam Messam and Craig Clarke, the masterboot of Aaron Cruden and the footy class of Sonny Bill Williams (see below image) led the team to successive titles.
It was recognition of hard graft. Like the Hurricanes in 2016, the Chiefs team had rewarded fans loyalty. And the two finalists tonight will respect how any team who desires, and works hard, can achieve their goals.
Auckland Blues: 1996/1997 – Blues: 2003
Professional rugby kicked off it’s debut season in 1996. Post the Rugby World Cup in South Africa, a new star was on the rugby world stage – Jonah Lomu. The ‘kid from Counties’ would be one of many star players; beside Sean Fitzpatrick, Zinzan Brook and Carlos Spencer.
The ‘Auckland Blues’ side was dominant. The epitomized the professional attitude, and [Sir] Graham Henry would demonstrate to all other teams, what the new standard was. Like the provincial rugby team, which made up part of the core squad, they won the majority of games. The Blues of this era, knew how to win on the big stage.
After a drought of seasons, in 2003, a new confidence emerged. Under the captaincy of Xavier Rush (see below picture), the squad would add once again be Super Rugby Champions. The class of 2003 was coached by Peter Sloane, but had input from former captains and players, that re-established the self confidence that had been (and is now) missing.
Unfortunately, the dynasty had lost it’s polish. Up to 2018, no further titles have been added. But the Auckland-based franchise is still the designer of the professional age, and that crown was passed onto successive teams and dynasties over the last 20 odd years.
Can the Lions create a new Realm?
Yes. Not by virtue, no but, by the manner in which the franchise has developed. New head coach or not, the groundwork is obvious; three consecutive grand finals appearances.
While it is no insult to be beaten by the reigning Super Rugby Champions – Warren Whiteley and his group are not just making up the numbers. They want to create a new Dynasty.
The Crusaders are a target, like any other opposition …its just that, the holders happen to be the eight time winners!
– The @LionsRugbyCo are the 4th team (Blues, Crusaders x 2, Brumbies) to play in 3 @SuperRugby finals in a row
– The @crusadersrugby have been in 12 previous #SuperRugby finals but haven't had one at home since 2008. #CRUvLIO pic.twitter.com/euxiniOhhO
— SportsIQ (@sportsiqnz) August 2, 2018
Read more about the Crusaders, or Canterbury Rugby, or the organization and their stakeholders. Support will be granted [even if it might only be 20,000] it is the most difficult task in World Rugby.
One the Lions will take on. The outcome may favour them, it maybe a home victory …. but the winners will be Super Rugby Champions.
And only the best teams can claim that crown.
“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images