The Crusaders were chugging along under the radar for much of the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season, as the Blues hogged headlines for their splendid campaign.
But in Saturday night’s final at Auckland’s Eden Park, the red and blacks gave the starkest of reminders that they absolutely know how to get the job done on the big occasion.
Their clinical 21-7 victory made it yet another title for their bulging trophy cabinet and for coach Scott Robertson’s ever-extending CV.
Here’s a breakdown of the key numbers in the wake of their latest triumph:
* Crusaders coach Scott Robertson on Super Rugby Pacific triumph: ‘We had to step up’
* Crusaders rise to the occasion as lineout attack key to Super Rugby Pacific triumph
* ‘It’s something dreams are made of:’ Crusaders lap up record-extending 13th crown
There was no such thing as unlucky 13, as the Crusaders made it a baker’s dozen of titles.
It’s now six years in a row they have claimed a piece of silverware, dating back to when coach Scott Robertson started with them in 2017.
To think they had waited nine years between titles prior to that.
The Crusaders have now competed in 28 Super Rugby competitions (two Super Rugby Aotearoa and one Super Rugby Trans-Tasman included) and 13 championship wins translates to a stunning 46% title return.
For comparison, Manchester United are 43% since the start of the English Premier League in 1992-93 and Auckland are 37% in the NPC.
With their latest effort, the Crusaders became just the seventh visiting side in 29 Super Rugby finals (two Super Rugby AU ones included and there was no decider in Super Rugby Aotearoa 2020) to take the spoils.
What do you know, the red and blacks have accounted for four of those previous six occasions – their three-peat in 1998-2000 in Auckland, Dunedin and Canberra, along with their 2017 victory in Johannesburg.
The other two teams were the Bulls, in Durban in 2007, and the Highlanders, in Wellington in 2015.
The Blues’ lineout was such a shambles on Saturday night that their throws lost hit a remarkable double figures, and outpointed their throws won (nine).
Hooker Kurt Eklund was constantly dusty with his darts, and will be having nightmares of big men in red rising up and picking them off, with the Crusaders credited with a whopping seven steals.
With their set-piece under all sorts of pressure, it was no wonder the Blues couldn’t get their game going.
They had been the architects of some quite brilliant tries throughout the campaign, but in a first half where they had just 38% possession and 35% territory, they couldn’t register a single point.
They had gone 80 matches since the last time they were held scoreless in a first half – their 44-7 defeat to the Highlanders at Eden Park in the final round of a 2015 season where they finished 14th (second-to-bottom).
With Sevu Reece scoring the match-clincher, it meant the Crusaders’ first-choice back-three of he, Leicester Fainga’anuku and Will Jordan finished equal-top of the competition’s tryscoring chart, with 10 apiece.
Their combined 30 was as many as the Fijian Drua managed across the competition.
Crusaders flanker Tom Christie finished the season with the most tackles of any player in the competition. With a team-equal-high 13 in the decider, the hard-nosed No 7 finished with 246, well ahead of a fellow Cantabrian in the Waratahs’ Charlie Gamble in second place (183), while Crusaders No 8 Cullen Grace finished with 181 in a red and blacks’ side which was made to make the most tackles on average per game this season (174).
With ball in hand, Crusaders fullback Will Jordan yet again carved up this season.
After leading the last three competitions (Aotearoa and Trans-Tasman in 2021 and Aotearoa in 2020) for metres carried, the silky All Black yet again finished top of the pops.
The Crusaders made a competition high 13,456m in total, and with another 110 in the final (behind only Leicester Fainga’anuku’s 113), Jordan finished the campaign with 1915m – some 561m ahead of second-placed former Crusaders team-mate Manasa Mataele, of the Force.
For some comparison, the last time the 2km-mark was broken was all the way back in 2007 (four players), when the Chiefs’ Roy Kinikinilau topped the charts with 2407.