THEY finally ended their title drought after nine years and in winning their eight Super Rugby title, the Crusaders also recorded another achievement to become the first team to win the title after flying across the Indian Ocean for the game.
A milestone too for coach Scott “Razor” Robertson, the former Crusaders and All Blacks flanker, for this success in his first year in charge.
Unlike for most of the season, this match in Johannesburg attracted a sellout crowd of about 62,000, most of whom would have placed their bets on the Lions winning their first title after making the final for a second year in a row.
They fought back after being down at half-time the way they came back against the Hurricanes the week before but this time with only 14 players after the sending off of flanker Kwagga Smith.
This comeback through phase after phase of attack meant the Crusaders had to play above themselves to make the tackles. In the end their defence which had been brilliant all season held on.
As the southern teams prepare for the Rugby Championships to start next weekend in Sydney, SANZAR must take a long hard look at how Super Rugby has continued to lose its glitter, with crowds down further in Australia and New Zealand since two years ago and just a little up in South Africa.
Australia also saw a dip in television viewership, which was slightly up in New Zealand and also down in South Africa.
But it was only a few years prior to that that attendances were on the rise.
The rugby press is in agreement that the conference format is not helping to make the competition attractive to fans and competitive to teams and while the number of teams will be reduced by three to 15 from next season, the critics are not expecting a turnaround in spectator support soon.
Even at this stage no one knows which of the five Australian franchises will have to exit next season. The irony is that despite being based in Perth and a long way away from everyone and expected to be one of two teams to be culled, the Western Force has supporters with a lot of pride and passion compared to others in the country. And more of them went to watch their team at the stadium when it was revealed that the Force may no longer be around from next season.
There are also sections of the rugby press who argue that the best option to make the competition a truly super one would be to go back to the round robin format which required all teams to play each other before the playoffs and to keep the maximum number of teams at 12.
The issue of having neutral match officials is another that should be taken into account, although this was agreed upon by the stakeholders. Not having neutral officials does affect the competition’s credibility if there’s a controversy.
Statistics show that there’s a predictability about the competition, which is not good for players and fans.
From 2011 the same teams have made most of the playoffs. New Zealand’s Crusaders and Chiefs were there six times; the Sharks, Stormers and Brumbies five each; Highlanders four times and the Waratahs, Reds and Hurricanes three each from a total of 46 slots.
In the last three years the title has been won by NZ franchises, while the only meaningful threat to their hold has come from the Lions in the last two seasons.
From the Test level perspective, a more intense and competitive tournament is crucial to how the national teams perform.
The exodus of Test players and the better ones from the level just below has affected the rugby from the Wallabies and the Springboks. The Argentinian Pumas have yet to show consistency against the other three in the Rugby Championship and not having a strong domestic competition is a factor.
The Rugby Championship will tell us further if rugby in the southern hemisphere has indeed been going south further and further. If it does, SANZAR will have another problem to deal with before the north enhances further the momentum that is now in its favour.