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Crusaders hunt magnificent seventh on Robertson’s swansong

The Canterbury Crusaders aim to secure a seventh straight Super Rugby title and a triumphant swansong for talismanic All Blacks-coach-to-be Scott Robertson this Saturday. But the in-form Waikato Chiefs could spoil the party.

Having lifted silverware with the Crusaders each season since he took charge in 2017, this is Robertson’s last game before leading the New Zealand national side after the Rugby World Cup.

With a host of All Blacks on display, tickets for the final at the Chiefs sold out FMG Stadium in Hamilton.

Robertson knows to expect a rough reception from the home crowd. “It’s going to be hostile, it’s going to be passionate,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“You know you are walking into a pressure environment. Crusaders love these moments.”

Victory would complete the set of seven consecutive titles for the Crusaders — including 2020 and 2021 when they won a domestic competition for New Zealand’s five teams with the borders shut due to Covid-19.

“To have the ability to go seven in a row means a lot to this group,” added Robertson.

He anticipates a tough final against the Chiefs, who finished the regular season top of the table before the play-offs. “They have set the benchmark. It’s going to be a great occasion.”

Whitelock returns

The Crusaders, who bulldozed past the Auckland Blues 52-15 in the semi-finals, have named a powerful starting side with New Zealand lock Sam Whitelock back after an Achilles tendon injury.

“He’s played about 1,000 first-class games, he’s a pretty seasoned campaigner and knows what it takes to win these sort of games,” Crusaders’ All Blacks star Will Jordan said of Whitelock’s timely return.

“When things get tight out there, just having his experience will be huge.”

Along with Robertson, this will also be the final Crusaders appearance for Whitelock, who joins French club Pau after the World Cup, and outside-half Richie Mo’unga, who has signed for Japanese team Toshiba Brave Lupus Tokyo.

“It’s definitely a bit of motivation for us. ‘Razor’ (Robertson), Richie and Sam have been a huge part of this little era of the Crusaders,” added Jordan. “It would be nice to win for them.”

The Chiefs are bidding for their first Super Rugby title since 2013, having lost just once all season.

All Blacks captain Sam Cane will make his 150th appearance for the Chiefs.

He is joined in the back-row by barnstorming flanker Pita Gus Sowakula in the only change to the starting side which beat the ACT Brumbies 19-6 to reach the final.

Loose forward Samipeni Finau, who has been named in the All Blacks squad for the first time, starts on the bench.

Chiefs head coach Clayton McMillan said the hosts are ready to spoil Robertson’s farewell.

“The Crusaders are clearly a quality side who will come here well prepared, with a lot of belief, and a legacy of turning up on the big stage,” said McMillan.

“We respect that — there’s no point denying it, but we aren’t daunted by the task at hand either.”