The Historian 24.Jul.2012Getty Images
This time last year, the Reds would have been still partying two weeks into their maiden Super Rugby championship reign, while to put further perspective on how the season has changed, every final up until 2011 was staged in late May.
But one thing is certain at this late chapter of Super Rugby, the Crusaders have ruled over this high stakes, test like intensity semi-final stage since 1998, and when the red and blacks won the title that season, a far advance from a wooden spoon at the tournament’s inception in 1996 – few would have predicted the success that would come their way.
As with every great team that has a 'slump' (as some detractors call their lack of a recent title), the Crusaders have a little bit of a point to prove, in the midst of four year absence without the Super Rugby trophy, but seven titles are backed by what are now fourteen semi-final appearances, while the franchise is striving for their eleventh final.
Only three times have the Crusaders lost in the semi-finals, and those were all to the Bulls in Pretoria and Soweto, with the seven-time winners unbeaten against New Zealand and Australian rivals in semi-final action.
The Crusaders record in Super Rugby Finals Series matches is unmatched; winning 19 of 25 matches, a run that has only been tarnished by the Bulls Super 14 era reign from 2007 to 2010.
The Chiefs from a historic standpoint are up against it despite having the luxury of final’s home advantage, a key aspect of any championship winners success (ironically, notwithstanding the Crusaders who won their first three titles on the road).
The Chiefs have appeared in just three Super rugby Finals Series matches, the fewest of any Kiwi franchise, including the Highlanders (with five knockout matches to their credit) who haven’t featured in playoff action since 2002.
But while the Chiefs may have only won the solitary final’s match, they can take solace from the fact that it was at home, where this season the franchise could be on the verge of registering record crowd attendances.
Their 14-10 win against the Hurricanes in 2009 was at the time their best ever final’s result, and this year’s edition will hope to go one further, by beating the Crusaders at home and hoping for a Sharks upset which could bring the Super Rugby decider to Hamilton.
First they must account for a Crusaders team that has the imposing record of seven wins in ten visits to Chiefs territory, so while the seven-time champions look to continue their ledger in Super Rugby Finals Series, the men from the Waikato must account for New Zealand’s standard bearer in the tournament if they are to break their trophy drought.