Super Rugby: Crusaders hoping to break World Cup year title drought

As the Crusaders chase a three-peat in Super Rugby, they are motivated to do something they haven't been able to achieve in 20 years.

The red and blacks haven't won the Super title in a World Cup year since 1999, when they defeated the Highlanders in the final. 

In 2003 and 2011, the Crusaders lost to the Blues and the Reds respectively in the final, while there was a semi-final exit in 2007 at the hands of eventual champions the Bulls.

Four years ago, they missed the playoffs all together under Todd Blackadder.

Current Crusaders coach Scott Robertson was a member of that 1999 championship team - and he's fully aware of the World Cup year drought surrounding his side.

"For me personally, it is a World Cup year, it's a great challenge," he said.

"It has been a long time since the Crusaders won it in a World Cup year, and it is something I look forward to when these challenges come up.

"You take the learnings on why they haven't been successful, and what this group needs to do to hold two trophies up." 

The 1999 winning Crusaders team.
The 1999 winning Crusaders team. Photo credit: Photosport

Robertson and his fellow Kiwi coaches will have quite the juggle on their hands during the opening month of the tournament.

The All Blacks' brains trust have set out some fairly stringent requirements in relation to returning World Cup hopefuls.

But 'Razor' isn't fazed. The 44-year-old has his selection plan mapped out and is confident he has buy-in from his squad.

"The [All Blacks] have 60 minutes off each in the first three games, 20 minutes off the next game and so forth, so the way you structure it depends on the context of the game and the welfare of the player.

"I've had lots of time to freshen up and get my creative mind going. My job is to inspire these boys and make sure they love every day and get better as players. We have lots of things prepared to face the new season with.

"Everyone is really fit, everyone has a tan on, doing great in the gym, setting PBs and running well. You come into this time of year and everyone is feeling optimistic."

One player who seems to have responded superbly well to the pre-season is controversial winger Sevu Reece.

The Waikato flyer had a lucrative contract with Irish club Connacht cancelled last year after a domestic violence incident that led to a court appearance for the 21-year-old.

He was discharged without conviction, but was omitted from the Chiefs Super Rugby squad, leaving him in career limbo.

A lifeline came in the form of the Crusaders, who invited Reece to be a part of their pre-season on a replacement contract, with an opportunity to earn a full-time spot come the start of the season.

Robertson is delighted with the commitment and hard work Reece has put in both on and off the field.

An appearance for Reece in the regular season is now a possibility according to his coach.

"Sevu is a great kid," Robertson noted.

"He's quick - which is an understatement, he can beat a player. He's made some players look silly with how quick and mobile he is. A change of environment has done wonders for him.

"It is a juggling act to find out who's coming in week to week but there is an opportunity for Sevu to stay."

The Crusaders play the Hurricanes and the Highlanders in pre-season before opening their title defence against the Blues at Eden Park on February 16.