Rugby
Sam Bruce, ESPN Associate Editor 47d

Crusaders dynasty achieved, do All Blacks beckon for Scott Robertson?

A three-peat of titles and a second Crusaders dynasty secured, the big question now is whether coach Scott Robertson moves on to pastures greener, or black, to be precise.

The Crusaders on Saturday night farewelled veterans Kieran Read, Owen Franks, Jordan Taufua, and the injured Ryan Crotty, defeating the Jaguares 19-6 at a packed Orange Theory Stadium in Christchurch.

But the two-time defending champion didn't have it all their own way and had to work much harder than they did 12 months prior, against the Lions, as the Jaguares dominated possession and territory in a game that had more than just a smattering of Test-match intensity about it.

But the visitors were unable to nail their three clear try-scoring moments after winger Matias Moroni twice skipped into the backfield and found himself within metres of scoring a try that really would have put the Crusaders under pressure.

Had Moroni not knocked on over the line midway through the first half and then, upon the resumption, found the supporting Matias Orlando on his left hip, we could be toasting an historic day in the history of Argentine rugby. Moroni's final near miss came when a clever set-piece kick play dribbled over the dead-ball line, the winger sliding into the advertising hoarding in a move that summed up the Jaguares' night.

Flanker Pablo Matera was a worthy winner of the man-of-the-match award and, along with the Hurricanes' Ardie Savea, probably the standout player of the season. Matera created two of Moroni's three opportunities and gave the Crusaders trouble in the wider channels all night.

But where the Jaguares were unable to nail their chances, the Crusaders proved exactly why they have won three titles on the bounce in capitalising on one of only two genuine opportunities that came their way.

Having held up Joaquin Diaz Bonilla after the Jaguares fly-half had taken a kick, flanker Matt Todd then ripped the ball free just before the No. 10 got to ground; No. 8 Kieran Read then quickly scooped a pass to to lock Sam Whitelock, who sprinted down the left touchline and drew the covering defence with a perfect pass to a supporting Codie Taylor.

From there, the Jaguares were always going to be up against it. A failure to nail the few opportunities the Crusaders do present meant that only one result was ever going to play out.

"One's special, two's amazing but three, you're talking about having a dynasty," Crusaders scrum-half Hall said later.

Saturday's victory marked the second time the Crusaders had won three straight titles. Robertson has been there for both of them.

When the Crusaders lifted the trophy from 1998 through to 2000, Robertson was a free-running back-rower in Robbie Deans' All Black-laden squad. Nineteen years later, it's Robertson who has called the shots, created the game plans, built a world-class support network and, in doing so, made an almost-irresistible case to be the next All Blacks coach.

Robertson re-signed with the Crusaders, and therefore New Zealand Rugby, earlier this year. But in no way does that prohibit him from taking on the biggest job in the land; Robertson's triumph on Saturday leaving him as one of the few alternate options to current All Blacks assistant Ian Foster.

The big attraction in Robertson as coach of the All Blacks, and certainly something the man himself will be motivated by, will be working the two-time world champion through another period of transition. Kieran Read, Ben Smith, Owen Franks and Ryan Crotty will all leave the Test scene after this year's tournament, which is widely expected to be the tightest yet.

Robertson would offer a clear point-of-difference to the far more serious, if dryly humorous Graham Henry, Steve Hansen and Foster; the Crusaders coach has a style in stark contrast to the former and current All Blacks coach, and the other leading contender for the role.

But where there is strong support for Robertson to ascend to the top job in some quarters, there will also likely be those who feel he is still too green for the role. His doubters will question whether his outside-the-box style can resonate with a playing group he only has a few short weeks to mould into a squad, rather than a nine-month stretch when he is around the players at least five days a week.

There will be those too, who point to the well-trodden path of All Blacks coaches completing a stint up north, which would mean Robertson would be unlikely to be considered for at least the next World Cup cycle.

With Warren Gatland committed to the British & Irish Lions in 2021, the incoming Chiefs coach is seemingly out of the running for the next cycle.

But Joe Schmidt looms large despite his wish to spend the first 12 months of his return to New Zealand with his family. The current Ireland coach could yet be convinced to take on the job and he is known to have strong support from within New Zealand Rugby.

For now, Robertson can sit back and bask in the glory of an amazing three-year stretch where he has lost just five games as coach of the Crusaders, and lifted three titles in the process. Beyond that, he can plan his pitch to New Zealand Rugby and focus on readying the Crusaders for an unprecedented fourth straight Super Rugby title.

"Sometimes I get a little bit wacky, things are a little bit different, but they stay with me and we enjoy the ride," Robertson said a couple of hours after fulltime on Saturday, his now obligatory break-dancing celebration complete.

It's likely a question of when, not if, that "ride" sees Robertson dance on over to the All Blacks.

If 2020 does turn out to be too soon, you can guarantee the wackiness will continue at the Crusaders. So great has Robertson's influence been over the last three years, only a brave man would suggest the title-winning won't continue, too.

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