Super Rugby Pacific: Rebuilding Crusaders intent on improvement to maintain their dominance

Get better or get beaten - that's the attitude the defending champion Crusaders are taking into Super Rugby Pacific 2024, as they look to continue their title run, when the new season kicks off this weekend.

With Scott Robertson's promotion to the All Blacks coach, the Crusaders find themselves in something of a rebuild, but with no shortage of teams looking to chase them down.

Standing next to the trophy he's used to lifting, captain Scott Barrett has no plans to let it fall into anyone else's hands this season.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett and Chiefs rival Luke Jacobson.
Crusaders captain Scott Barrett and Chiefs rival Luke Jacobson. Photo credit: Photosport

Despite the departures of Robertson, first-five Richie Mo'unga and kingpin lock Sam Whitelock, the Crusaders aren't letting their absence hinder a shot at an eighth straight title. 

"The group has high expectations and we've always talked about how you have to get better or you get beaten," said Barrett. "It's as simple as that."

That philosophy has held the southerners in good stead and they'll need that mentality again, when they kick off the new campaign against the Chiefs on Friday.

"That's doubling down on what the strengths of your game are, but also innovating and coming up with new ways, because you can't stay still," said Barrett.

The Crusaders can expect a similar mindset from the chasing pack. Perhaps flying under the radar already, the Hurricanes feel well placed to improve on recent seasons, which have come to an end at the quarter-final stage.

"Clarkey's done a great job at bringing everyone together, and one of the biggest things we've focussed on in pre-season is our connection within the group and within Wellington, and up in our region," said captain Brad Shields.

With All Blacks Sevens mastermind Clark Laidlaw now at the helm, there's been a greater emphasis on their off-field culture to help drive success on it.

"The buck doesn't just stop with him," said Shields. "He's heading up the ship, but you know the leaders within the group and the management.

"We've got to live that day in, day out and make a genuine effort in that area."

Off the field, administrators continue to try and make the Super Rugby product as strong as possible. NZ Rugby chief executive Mark Robinson is bullish in his defence of it.

"We have athletes like no other part of the world," he said. "We are working harder than anyone else in the world around making this product far more entertaining and much more of a spectacle." 

NZ Rugby hopes the upcoming season can live up to the hype. 

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