Super Rugby Pacific: Coach Scott Robertson revels in 'special' swansong as Crusaders dynasty continues

As Chiefs first-five Damian McKenzie lined up a potentially matchwinning shot at goal in the dying moments of Saturday's Super Rugby Pacific final, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson's thoughts drifted towards the possibility that perhaps title No.7 wasn't meant to be.

McKenzie's long-range attempt fell short, leaving the Crusaders to win the match with one final penalty of their own to get the celebrations officially underway. 

Cue the circle, the 'Razor-Ray' chants and Robertson 'breakdancing' like a drunk dad at a 21st for the seventh time in as many years.

"One kick away," reflected Robertson on the fragile nature of finals rugby, while the celebrations reverberated from the visitors' changingroom in the background.

"[The Chiefs] would have deserved it and well done. They've had a great season and Clayton has put a good squad together.

"The Chiefs were unbelievable. Their defence was incredible, but it's small margins."

There were other pivotal moments during the match when it seemed the Crusaders would be denied, most notably Emoni Narawa's disallowed try that briefly saw the scoreboard read 25-15 with 25 minutes to play - before the conversion attempt.

Instead, it was the most suitable swansong imaginable for the departing Robertson, who'll head off into the All Blacks sunset as the winningest coach in Super Rugby history, his seven-trophy haul a mark that's difficult to imagine ever being bested.

The dynasty began at Johannesburg in 2017 and ended on a nippy night at Hamilton in 2023, with a title for every season Robertson has been in charge.

"I'm really proud to call myself a Crusader, as a player and a coach," he said. "You don't often get to be successful in both.

"I've been going to Rugby Park for 23 years in a different capacity. I love the game, and rugby has given me and my family so much.

"I'm really thankful. To finish on this note makes it even more special, because it could have gone the other way."

Given what his injury-ravaged squad had to overcome to get there, this one may taste among the sweetest. The defending champions went into the decider - in hostile territory, no less - missing eight of their 15-strong All Blacks contingent.

The ongoing reshuffling has forced Robertson and his coaches to plunge the depths of their squad and beyond, using a staggering 48 players throughout this campaign.

They were forced to call on every ounce of their championship experience at Hamilton, defying a cacophonous, soldout crowd of 25,000 at FMG Stadium to prevail 25-20 in a contest where the Chiefs often seemed just one broken tackle away from pulling clear of their southern foes.

Robertson with Richie Mo'unga.
Robertson with Richie Mo'unga. Photo credit: Getty Images

History should tell us the Crusaders always find a way. This time, after a sustained try-line assault in the face of some heroic Chiefs defence, veteran hooker Codie Taylor cashed in on their patented lineout rolling maul to give his side the lead for the final time.

"We were disciplined enough, and kept plugging and plugging," said Crusaders captain Scott Barrett.

"We eventually got the reward and just had to stay patient. The leaders around me were immense in keeping the group pretty level.

"I'm speechless that we have this [the trophy]. I'm pretty proud."

As well as Robertson, the occasion was also a fitting send-off for a chunk of the Crusaders' All Blacks veterans, who'll head offshore after the upcoming World Cup in France.

Among those is Sam Whitelock, who remarkably tamed his Achilles injury to deliver a player-of-the-match performance, and who'll be joined in France by Jack Goodhue and Leicester Fainga'anuku.

Robertson and his staff celebrate at the final whistle.
Robertson and his staff celebrate at the final whistle. Photo credit: Getty Images

Japan-bound Richie Mo'unga bade farewell with a virtuoso display at first-five, relentlessly testing the Chiefs defence, directing his team expertly and scoring a try to provide a parting reminder of how much he'll be missed by the All Blacks.

"Richie was sublime," said Robertson. 

"He's a finals footballer, a genuine, world-class finals footballer. He’s a winner who stays in the fight.

"We'll miss everyone. Well, the next two days we're not, because we're going to make sure they participate heavily."

Robertson will now take some well-earned respite back in his beloved Sumner, before eventually turning his attention to the first day at his new All Blacks job - which won't be until some time after Ian Foster's final bid for World Cup glory in September and October.

In the more immediate term, there will be plenty of celebrating and - finally - an opportunity for some sentimentality that Robertson has tried to suppress to ensure he remained focused on leaving on the ultimate high.

"I will enjoy the next few days and will do a lot of reminiscing. I haven’t done any until now."