CHRISTCHURCH – The victory celebrations for back-to-back Super Rugby titles had hardly started when the Crusaders put the spotlight on completing a triple crown next year.
The Crusaders were too smart and too clinical for the Golden Lions in Christchurch on Saturday as they took the grand final 37-18, to go with their 25-17 win over the same side the previous year.
It extended the New Zealand club's phenomenal record in the 23-year-old southern hemisphere competition to nine titles from 13 finals, and they have missed making at least the semi-finals only five times.
Coach Scott Robertson said talk of winning again in 2019 has already started.
"One of the players – I won't name names – it was the first thing he said... I thought he was going to come in for a cuddle. He was talking about that," Robertson said, confirming he was keen to stay with the side and did not really want a break between seasons.
"My mind sort of wanders to what can happen next year already. You are always sort of planning ahead.
"It is like a great holiday, you actually don't want this to end. What I am going to do next week? There is nothing next week – that is the hard part of it for me."
Robertson won four Super championships as a player for the Crusaders, and now has two as their coach.
Last year, when they were not expected to win in Johannesburg, he was elated but winning at home on Saturday was different.
"We were favourites here. It was relief," he said.
Ireland's Ronan O'Gara, now a Crusaders assistant coach, has been impressed by the "humility" of the players in the champion side and Robertson said the team culture was to play for each other.
"We had 16 debutants this year, including for the French Barbarians game, and it meant everyone stepped up. I'm just really proud," he said.
Lions skipper Warren Whiteley could not argue with the scoreboard, saying his side fired every weapon in their arsenal but could not land a telling blow as even their famed rolling maul was rolled backwards.
"Jeez it was tough... (We) pretty much did everything that we could and they were just very good. There is nothing else you can say," he said.
"You have to give the Crusaders credit, they were unbelievable, they defended like champions and we've got so much respect for them."