Super Rugby Pacific: Chiefs not hunting for revenge over Crusaders in rematch of 2023 final

On the eve of Super Rugby 2024, the Chiefs could be forgiven for having an axe to grind against their first opponents, the Crusaders.  

In 2023, coach Clayton McMillan's side conquered close to all before them - but fell short in the decider, as Scott Robertson's Crusaders came away with a seventh successive title.  

Across their two regular season clashes, the Chiefs got the better of the Crusaders. In round one, they claimed a 31-10 victory at Christchurch and went again in round 10 to win 34-24 at Hamilton.

The Chiefs react to their Super Rugby 2023 final loss.
The Chiefs react to their Super Rugby 2023 final loss. Photo credit: Photosport

Come the decider, inspired by Richie Mo'unga, the Crusaders had the last laugh and lifted the trophy with a 25-20 victory.  

On Friday, for the second year in a row, the two sides will kick off the new season. Both enter the new season with fresh looks, after the departure of senior All Blacks like captain Sam Cane, Brodie Retallick, Sam Whitelock and Mo'unga offshore.  

For Damian McKenzie, whose renaissance in the No.10 jersey was pivotal to the Chiefs' 2023 success, the encounter at FMG Stadium isn't about revenge, it's about starting the new year on the front foot.  

"I wouldn't say there's 'revenge'," McKenzie told Newshub. "Obviously, when you play any New Zealand Super Rugby team, there's a rivalry there.

"For us, we've got to wipe the slate clean and focus on what we can do this year. Both sides have got two different sides to last year's final.  

"We've got to come out and start well. It's great when you can do that and build momentum throughout the season.  

"Crusaders, the defending champions, is never an easy game, but we're looking forward to that challenge."  

For any player, in any sport, losing a final is a tough pill to swallow, after working for an entire season, only to fall short at the final hurdle.  

In 2023, international players like McKenzie at the very least could shift their focus towards the All Blacks' Rugby World Cup campaign to help take their mind off their franchise duties.  

Now refreshed after an extended break over the summer and pre-season, he concedes the pain is being channelled into a push for the Chiefs' first title since 2013. 

Scott Robertson and Richie Mo'unga celebrate winning Super Rugby Pacific 2023.
Scott Robertson and Richie Mo'unga celebrate winning Super Rugby Pacific 2023. Photo credit: Getty Images

"You do have that sort of feeling for two weeks after it, but it's important, you have to move on.  

"You have to take the [lessons] from the year and bring them into this year, make sure you can amend those and get better.  It's obviously bitterly disappointing to finish second, but we know it's going to be a big year this year, an exciting year.  

"Hopefully we can do our best job to put our best foot forward and go one better - but it's going to take a lot of work." 

Join Newshub at 7pm Friday for live updates of the Chiefs v Crusaders Super Rugby Pacific clash