Crusaders at a crossroads after rare Super Rugby play-off failure

David Skippers
Crusaders and Rob Penney pic SRP 2024 - Alamy.jpg

The Crusaders and their head coach Rob Penney.

This year’s Super Rugby Pacific quarter-finals will have a strange feel to it as it will be a rare occasion that the tournament’s perennial champions, the Crusaders, will not be involved in the play-offs.

The Christchurch-based outfit won seven Super Rugby titles in a row between 2017 and 2023 under the guidance of former head coach Scott Robertson, who has subsequently moved on to take over the coaching reins at the All Blacks.

However, things have gone pear-shaped for the Crusaders in 2024 as they struggled throughout Super Rugby Pacific and eventually won just four out of their 14 matches played and lost the remaining 10.

That means they have not reached the play-offs for the first time since 2015 while it’s only the fifth time since the inaugural Super Rugby season in 1996 that they haven’t made it to the knockout stages.

Defiant head coach

Current head coach Rob Penney was defiant in the build-up to their 29-27 win against the Blues in Christchurch, saying he has no intention of resigning from his position despite the team’s poor overall performance in 2024.

Penney’s troops thought they had done enough to clinch eighth position in this year’s competition when they sealed a 43-10 home victory over Moana Pasifika on Friday.

However, they faced a nervy wait to see what would happen in Saturday’s clash between the Fijian Drua and Rebels in Lautoka. The Drua occupied eighth place in the standings ahead of the final round’s action while the Rebels had already booked their spot in the play-offs and were in seventh position.

In the end, the Drua clinched a 40-19 victory and swapped places with the Rebels on the table. Both teams amassed 26 points but the Melbourne-based outfit dropped to eighth spot as their hosts won more games and had a superior points difference.

So where to now for the Crusaders? Despite his defiance, Penney’s position must be in danger as the Crusaders have set high standards over the years and they did not come close to reaching that in 2024.

All Blacks star shines as Crusaders cruise past Moana Pasifika to keep Super Rugby Pacific play-off hopes alive

On Saturday, after it was confirmed that their season has come to an end, they released the following statement on their official website: “The Crusaders 2024 season has come to an end. Congratulations to all of those teams who have made it through to the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs.

“Regardless of result or position on the competition table, we remain proud of our team, of our club, and of the huge mahi put in across the entire organisation to deliver the season that has been.

“Many results didn’t go our way and at times our on-field performance was not at the level we expect of ourselves. Naturally we are all disappointed and will look hard at why we lost the games we did, and what we did to win the ones that made a difference. Fine margins define results and table position, and we lost six of our games by less than seven points.

“One of the core reasons we’ve won the last seven Super Rugby titles – and 14 titles since 1996 – is that we play for each other, we represent proud South Island rugby regions, and we work for a cause greater than ourselves.

‘Full performance review’ to be held

“Of course, there is work to do to improve and come back stronger. As we always do, we now conduct a full performance review. It’s our chance to discuss what went right, what went wrong and where we can find improvements.

“Our review is focused on performance and ensures we don’t make any rash decisions. We want the team and organisation to operate to the standard we expect, and every opportunity to improve is looked at.

“We review all aspects of our environment. All players and coaches are surveyed, and some players will participate in feedback workshops. Generally, reviews deliver insights we wouldn’t share broadly but results of those insights may be seen. We look forward to the lessons we’ll learn, and improving how we operate ahead of the 2025 season.”

It remains to be seen whether Penney will still be in his position after that review.

READ MORE: Dan Biggar ‘feels’ for New Zealander replacing ‘relentless’ Owen Farrell at Saracens