If there is one rugby team worthy of the title ‘the Real Madrid of rugby’, it is surely the Canterbury-based Crusaders.
The New Zealanders – unbeaten at home in the history of the Super Rugby playoffs – are seeking their tenth title from 14 appearances in the final over the course of the 24-year-old competition.
Few teams involved in international sports competition can boast a similar degree of success. One notable exception, of course, are Spanish football giants Real Madrid.
Los Blancos are easily the most successful team in both Spain and Europe, with 33 titles in domestic competition and 13 from 16 finals in the Champions League.
They have also won four Club World Cup titles, in addition to the trio of Intercontinental Cups they collected last century, in which the European champions were pitted against their South American counterparts.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, have maintained a commanding 68 per cent success rate in Super Rugby with 217 wins to 95 losses, and that improves to 82 per cent at home. They are a fraction below 75 per cent in the play-offs, and 100 per cent at home with 23 straight wins.
The red-and-blacks are looking for just their second three-peat, having achieved the feat once between 1998 and 2000. No other team has done so.
After the Crusaders, who have won nine finals from 13 appearances, the Auckland-based Blues are still the second most successful team in Super Rugby with three titles from four finals, including the first two.
They are followed by the Pretoria-based Bulls, who won three titles from three appearances in the final between 2007 and 2010, and remain the only South African champions.
All of the original 12 franchises have made it to the final, though the Durban-based Sharks (0-4), Johannesburg-based Lions (0-3), and Cape Town-based Stormers (0-1) have yet to win one.
They vie with this year’s beaten semi-finalists, the Hurricanes, for the tag of tournament chokers. The Wellington outfit have reached the last four 11 times for a paltry three wins and one title.
New Zealand have a collective 16 titles from 25 appearance in the final, Australia four from ten and South Africa three from 11. The Crusaders will be overwhelming favourites to add to the Kiwi tally this weekend.
The final shapes up as a real David and Goliath battle on paper. Los Jaguares are making their first appearance at this stage of the championship. They are the first team from outside the original 12 franchises to get to the semis, in fact, let alone the final.
The Buenos Aires-based side have placed 13th, tenth, seventh and second during their four years’ involvement, and the semi-final win over the Canberra-based Brumbies gives them a winning record historically at 33-32. Their steady improvement will inevitably give rise to calls for a second team from Argentina. Already there have been suggestions the side resembles the national team a little too closely.
Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, Argentina – or South America – could even have its own conference. At the moment they are planning to get their own professional competition up and running across the region. Additional sides are probably not on SANZAAR’s agenda right now, with Japan’s Sunwolves set to depart in 2021, allowing the tournament to return to a 14-team round-robin format.
But if the Jaguares are able to cause yet another upset this weekend, and bring an end to the Crusaders’ unbeaten record in their South Island fortress, it would be hard to argue against increased Argentinean representation.
The odds may be heavily against them, but the Jaguares have been defying the odds and making history for the last couple of seasons.
Besides, not even the mighty Real Madrid are infallible, and we know how the story of David and Goliath ended.