James Mortimer 29.Jul.2012Getty Images
Their exceptional record cannot be denied, and it is hardly as if a team that qualified as the highest ranked wildcard (and a side that took down the Chiefs during the regular season in Hamilton), has become a bad team overnight.
Indeed, part of the ethos of ‘title town’ in Canterbury is that with seven trophies in the cabinet, success should regularly occur during Super Rugby campaigns.
Even former Crusaders halfback Justin Marshall said after the Chiefs semi-final victory that they had “beaten the champions”, and while some may feel that such a remark hints at a feeling of a given right to win Super Rugby – such expectation becomes constant thanks to the feat of winning seven titles from 1998 to 2008.
The feeling of dissatisfaction from the Crusaders is a sign that their winning mentality has been hurt, especially from players such as McCaw, who over his glorious career has become quite accustomed to winning matches he wants to win.
While McCaw may not have been able to inspire his Crusaders to a win over the Chiefs, as he did with his All Blacks over Les Bleus last year, the small consolation the New Zealand captain could take is that rugby in his homeland is in rude health.
Already how the Crusaders approach the 2013 Investec Super Rugby campaign is something worth getting excited about, but equally how the next generation of players throughout the country are stepping up.
It is youth, not experience that provides the spine of the Chiefs team.
There were times during the Crusaders 28-21 win over the Chiefs in round 17 that the game had the feel of “men versus boys” as the likes of McCaw and Dan Carter delighted in correcting the world order when breaking a six-match winning streak for the Waikato based franchise.
However in the semi-final there was no feeling of intimidation or awe about a Chiefs team that rolled up their sleeves and did the business, showing a cold focus that if often associated with a championship winning outfit.
This time around it may not be the red and black Super Rugby overlords who are setting the standard, it is the Chiefs, who will look to become the third New Zealand team to win the tournament since its inception in 1996.
The fact that this steely winning mentality now is no longer the exclusive province of the Crusaders is a massive positive for a nation not even a year into their second World Championship reign.