Why rugby fans outside of Canterbury hate the Crusaders

The Crusaders haven't had much to smile about this season. Photo: Getty Images
The Crusaders haven't had much to smile about this season. Photo: Getty Images
OPINION: When the seven-time defending champion Crusaders run out at Eden Park on Saturday night, most Kiwi fans will hope they’re headed for a fifth straight defeat.

Taking for granted that such desires are normal and good, what gives?

Is the collective antipathy towards Super Rugby’s serial winners owed to a complex blend of tradition, prejudice, partisanship and historicism? Or is it the fact they’re Super Rugby’s serial winners? Let’s begin with the second theory because that’s easier for me.

Before last weekend, when the champs fell to 0-4 in their latest title defence, the Crusaders’ sorriest start came in the inaugural Super Rugby season, a trio of losses greeted rather less joyously.

Back in 1996, a short slump was nothing new: the province responsible for the original Canterbury Crusaders moniker had won only two NPC titles and none since 1983.

Auckland, if this outlet’s many Gen Z readers can believe, had long been the dominant force, claiming nine crowns in 12 years preceding the launch of Super 12. The Blues then confirmed that preeminence by taking the first two trophies, undoubtedly to nationwide acclaim.

Conversely, the Crusaders were an afterthought, following an initial last place with improvement but no playoff spot. Ever since, though, they’ve remained central.

Under super-coach Wayne Smith and then Robbie Deans, the Crusaders earned a hat-trick of titles. Four more were secured the next decade, and four more the next. By the time they began another decade with another three, everyone was a little sick of their shit.

Now, is it the 14-time champions’ fault that as coaches came and went, as legends retired and replacements ascended, they just kept winning? Yes. But should they be resented for that success? Also yes.

Quinten Strange celebrates a try against the Blue last season. Photo: Getty Images
Quinten Strange celebrates a try against the Blue last season. Photo: Getty Images
No matter the sport, familiar victors breed contempt. Manchester United, the New England Patriots, Australia — each is loathed and the downfall of two has been celebrated (your time is coming, Australia).

The Crusaders receiving a season-long comeuppance would be glorious and anyone suggesting otherwise should probably be relocated to the Canterbury region.

But is there something else at play, something about that particular region amplifying our emotions? Is something down there a bit…different?

Call it more fact-free hunch than studied observation. Because it is. Like many, this writer steadfastly avoids Canterbury, entering its borders only when work requires. But for a stranger in a strange land, there does seem a difference.

It was notable, for instance, that of the grounds where the Black Caps this summer hosted their traditional dress-up day, Hagley Oval was the sole venue that apparently missed the memo about cultural appropriation.

My culture is not your costume? Tell that to fans donning Middle Eastern keffiyeh or Mexican huipil or Buddhist kasaya. At the risk of being branded with the dreaded and increasingly nonsensical W-word, such outfits should really be shunned in the polite society that is a cricket crowd on a late-summer Saturday afternoon.

Then again, shunning could be part of the problem. Isolation can lead to ignorance, and for Canterbury, that works both ways.

Citizens of Christchurch and its surrounds, so separate from our other main centres, may justifiably feel overlooked. After all, Wellington’s the capital, Auckland’s the business hub, and Hamilton’s near the business hub.

What of Christchurch? It’s understandable if there’s a chip on the shoulder, a desire to be different, and reasonable if that in turn leads to baseless aspersions and spurious generalisations, as presented in this piece.

Given that context, and given any mutual animosity would be exacerbated by sustained success for one side of the divide, maybe this isn’t all Wayne Smith’s fault.

Maybe the Crusaders are mere innocent bystanders, helpless to withstand societal and intergenerational trends. Or maybe they’re the worst. On Saturday night, we’ll let Eden Park decide.

By Kris Shannon