Ranking the worst starts to a Super Rugby season by a New Zealand side: How do the 2024 Crusaders compare?

Jared Wright
Crusaders scrum-half Mitchell Drummond and head coach Rob Penney

The Crusaders are on their way to breaking an unwanted record.

It’s been a tough start to life after Scott Robertson for the Crusaders following seven successive title wins under their ex-head coach, but how does their poor run of losses compare to other previous slow starters?

We compare Rob Penney’s side’s dismal form at the beginning of the season and see where it ranks amongst their fellow compatriots: the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes and Highlanders.

With the help of NZ Rugby Database, we rank the run of defeats from the least to most before finally claiming a win.

5 losses – 1999 Chiefs

It was a tough start for the 1999 Chiefs, as Ross Cooper’s side succumbed to five straight defeats to start the fourth season of Super Rugby – at the time, Super 12.

The season kicked off against the defending champion Crusaders in Canterbury, and the title holders delivered a statement of intent in their opener, hammering the Chiefs 48-3. Future ‘Saders boss Robertson scored one of the five tries, and fly-half Andre Mehrtens added 26 points from the tee.

To their credit, the Chiefs responded well to the defeat and put up a fight against the Queensland Reds but fell to a narrow 19-17 defeat. They fell similarly short to the Waratahs in round three as the NSW outfit secured a 36-30 win.

The bye week did not help the Chiefs turn things around, as they would lose to New Zealand rivals the Blues (29-18) and Highlanders (27-16) in back-to-back weeks.

Cooper’s charges finally broke their drought with a 16-13 win over the Brumbies in round seven. The Chiefs would remarkably turn their season around, losing just one more match, claiming five wins from 12 matches, and finishing in sixth place overall.

5 losses – 2024 Crusaders

Penney’s return to the Crusaders hasn’t quite gone to plan. The 2005 assistant coach has overseen a run of five losses in the opening five rounds, a stark shift in fortunes for the Canterbury-based side that won seven titles in a row.

The Crusaders have suffered a host of injuries in 2024 and have also bid farewell to key players like Sam Whitelock and Richie Mo’unga, but few would have predicted such a drop-off for the side.

Their season started with a repeat of the 2023 final against the Chiefs. While Robertson’s side claimed a 25-20 victory to defend their title, Penney’s team was less fortunate, as two late Josh Ioane penalties sealed a 33-29 victory for the Chiefs.

The defending champions’ second game of the season was against Penney’s former team, the Waratahs. It resulted in their first loss to an Australian team since April 2022, as the ‘Tahs claimed a 37-24 victory in Christchurch. The Fijian Drua shocked the Crusaders in 2023 and backed that up in round four of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season, claiming a 20-10 win.

It is never easy to play back-to-back fixtures against New Zealand rivals, and that proved to be the case for the Crusaders, who fell to the Hurricanes (14-10) and Blues (26-6).

Penney’s side finally ended their drought when they clinched a 37-26 victory against the Chiefs in their Round Six clash in Christchurch.

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6 losses – 2022 Highlanders

Tony Brown’s final year in charge of the Highlanders was a forgettable one as he oversaw one of their poorest Super Rugby seasons.

The Highlanders were winless until round eight of the tournament after losing their opening five games to rivals Chiefs (26-16), Crusaders (42-32), Hurricanes (21-14) and Blues (32-20 and 32-25) in succession.

Due to the tournament’s setup, their sixth game was also against a team from Aotearoa, the Crusaders, who they again lost to, falling to a narrow 17-14 defeat.

Brown’s side finally broke their losing streak, defeating Moana Pasifika 37-17.

The Highlanders’ ability to claim losing bonus points proved pivotal in the season as they managed to reach the quarter-finals despite winning just four of their 14 matches. However, their journey would be ended there by the Blues who hammered them 35-6.

6 losses – 2008 Highlanders

Glenn Moore’s tenure as head coach of the Highlanders also got off to a poor start, with the men from Dunedin losing their first six games in succession.

The Reds defeated them 22-16 in round one and it was back-to-back defeats to Australian sides when the Brumbies claimed a 22-20 victory.

While remaining competitive in their opening games, it was not enough as the Waratahs completed the hat-trick of Aussie wins over the Highlanders with a 15-12 victory in Dunedin. Moore’s side certainly put up a big fight in all their matches, which showed in the final scoreline again with a 10-6 defeat to the Hurricanes.

The Melbourne Rebels made it a full house of Australian wins over the Highlanders in round six with a 36-28 triumph. The Chiefs were also successful against the Highlanders with a 39-24 win before ‘Landers finally broke their streak with a 29-20 victory over the Lions.

However, that was just one of the side’s three wins that season, as they finished 11th overall.

7 losses – 2015 Blues

While Sir John Kirwan is an undisputed legend of All Blacks and Blues rugby, he struggled for consistency as head coach of his beloved Auckland-based side. And 2015 was undoubtedly his worst season in at the helm.

The Blues finished the season with just three wins from 16 matches, the first of which only coming in round nine after seven consecutive defeats.

The 16-14 win over the Brumbies at Eden Park came after a torrid start to the season as they were beaten 23-18 by the Chiefs and 27-16 by the Stormers.

They almost stopped the streak on tour to South Africa but were denied a win over the Cheetahs when Joe Pietersen landed a 79th-minute penalty and when they had the opportunity to defeat the Lions in a similar fashion, Ihaia West’s penalty drifted wide as they fell to a 13-10 defeat in North Harbour.

An Ardie Savea double added further misery for the Blues in a 30-23 defeat in round five, and it didn’t get any better after a bye week as the Waratahs ran out 23-11 victors in round seven. A week later, the Chiefs scored twice in their 23-16 win before the Blues finally claimed a victory.

8 losses – 2020 Chiefs

After starting the 2020 Super Rugby season with four wins from six matches, things quickly turned sour for the Chiefs when the pandemic hit and the shortened Super Rugby Aotearoa season started.

Much was expected of the side led by Warren Gatland, but they flattered to deceive, failing to win a single one of their eight fixtures in the tournament, losing to the Crusaders, Blues, Hurricanes and Highlanders twice.

8 losses – 2013 Highlanders

Much was expected of the 2013 Highlanders in their third year under head coach Jamie Joseph, with star players littered throughout their squad.

However, that talent did not translate onto the pitch, with the Highlanders winning just three of their 18 matches after losing eight straight to start the season.

Joseph’s side picked up wins in round 12, with further victories in round 16 and 19.

Their horror season started with a 41-27 loss to the Chiefs before going down to the Cheetahs (36-19), Hurricanes (23-19), Chiefs (19-7), Reds (34-33), Blues (29-18), Brumbies (30-19), and Crusaders (24-8).

They finally notched up their first win, defeating the Sharks 25-22.

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