Super Rugby: How do you stop the Crusaders winning a seventh straight title? Rival coaches weigh in on ending a dynasty

As Super Rugby Pacific ticks closer for 2023, one team will start the season with a target on their backs - the reigning champion Crusaders.

For the last six years, the Crusaders have been an unstoppable force in domestic rugby, winning six titles across Super Rugby, Super Rugby Aotearoa in 2020 and 2021 and Super Rugby Pacific in 2022.

The Crusaders are expected to be at the forefront of this year's competition too, and have been instilled as the bookies' favourites to be title winners once more.

Scott Barrett lifts the Super Rugby Pacific trophy (2022).
Scott Barrett lifts the Super Rugby Pacific trophy (2022). Photo credit: Photosport

But while teams have come close to challenging Scott Robertson's side for Kiwi glory, none have triumphed.

As the team this year bids for a seventh title in seven years, beating the Crusaders is at the front of mind for all comers, most notably the four other New Zealand sides.

In 2022, the Blues showed they could go toe-to-toe with their Cantabrian arch-rivals with a 27-23 victory to end a winless streak in Christchurch that dated back to 2003.

But when it mattered most, the Crusaders had the last laugh, and toppled the Blues 21-7 at Eden Park to win their sixth successive crown.

For coach Leon MacDonald, whose side won 15 successive games before that final defeat, getting over the line in the big games is going to be the key to beating the Crusaders in 2023.

"You've got to be at your best to beat them," said MacDonald. "You've got to be at your very best on the big occasion. 

Sam Whitelock and Scott Robertson celebrate winning Super Rugby Pacific (2022).
Sam Whitelock and Scott Robertson celebrate winning Super Rugby Pacific (2022). Photo credit: Photosport

"Obviously they play at their best in the big games. That's their strength and [lesson] for us.

"The Chiefs had had a lot of success against them, we tasted some success against them last year.

"We just know we've got to keep growing and working on our game."

The Chiefs, meanwhile, see it differently.

After losing the Super Rugby Aotearoa final 24-13 to the Chiefs in 2021, Clayton McMillan's side also went to Christchurch and won last year with a 24-21 win at OrangeTheory Stadium.

But at the second time of asking, the Chiefs couldn't repeat their Christchurch win come the 2022 playoffs.

The Crusaders celebrate.
The Crusaders celebrate. Photo credit: Getty Images

In last year's Super Rugby Pacific semi-final, the Crusaders' knockout nous showed itself with a 20-7 victory to eliminate the Chiefs, and end any hopes of stopping the title streak at five.

For Chiefs coach Clayton McMillan, removing the Crusaders' home advantage is the biggest controllable to stopping Roberton's side's bid for a seventh consecutive crown later this year.

"I just think you've got to manage your squad really well over the course of the season to have hopefully the majority of your big guns playing at the end of the season," said McMillan.

"You've got to be growing your game the whole way through. To give yourself the absolute best chance of winning, you've got to be playing your finals at home.

"It's bloody hard to go anywhere else and win those games, so if you can be at the right end of the ladder at the back end of the season, that's helpful."

MacDonald, though, points out only concentrating on stopping the Crusaders will be detrimental if the Blues - or if any side - hopes to lift the title later this year.

"We're not just focussing on the Crusaders, that would be a bit foolish," Macdonald continued. "There's a lot of very good teams out there that can trip you up on the way. 

"Just controlling our game and what we do every week, making sure we're working hard and paying attention to detail, recovering well.

"All those things make a big difference when you go on the park. That's the only way you give yourself the best chance every weekend."

Super Rugby Pacific begins on February 24, when the Crusaders host the Chiefs in Christchurch.