Super Rugby Aotearoa: How do you beat the Crusaders?

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"Give them the title now."

Anyone following Super Rugby Aotearoa has heard it. And it could only refer to one team.

Ten days ago, the Crusaders were supposed to face their biggest test of the season at Eden Park. The then unbeaten Blues were coming for the mantle. This was their chance to challenge the established elite.

The Crusaders instead walked away with a comfortable 43-27 win, Richie Mo'unga banking 28 points, to ease into the bye week and continue their unrivalled pursuit of a fifth successive title.

Sitting eight points clear of the Blues, who have now dropped two games on the bounce, the Crusaders return to host the 1-3 Highlanders in the southern derby in Christchurch this week.

After four wins from as many outings Scott Robertson's men are odds on to host this year's inaugural Super Rugby Aotearoa final and, therefore, odds on to capture another crown.

Their record (63-3-7) alone under Robertson, despite the four other Kiwi sides desperate to knock them off each week, is incredible.

What makes the Crusaders so great? And are they unbeatable? We turned to Wayne Smith, the professor, for insight.

"They are certainly a step ahead at the moment," Smith, the former All Blacks coach, tells ESPN. "They're way more efficient at what they do. They re-set quickly; they fill the width of the field, they come forward, they are more likely to give an offload into a hole and once they're through that hole they're more likely to have support players carrying the play on so they're more likely to score off a break than any other team.

"A lot of the other teams, because they're a bit more robotic and they go into contact, they don't expect the break and don't have the support.

"There's not the same awareness to get on the toes. The Blues are a bit more structured than the Crusaders and they probably don't do as much work on their support play.

"Talent wise the teams are all pretty similar. You look at that Chiefs pack they've got five All Blacks and I don't think anyone would be wanting to play them again if they get on a roll.

"They've clearly got a great spirit and they can play similar to the Crusaders, but they seem to do things slightly better at the moment.

"That's down to good coaching, good leadership and an optimistic outlook on the game. And that's Razor, isn't it? If there's an optimist in New Zealand rugby, it's him."

Smith knows 'Razor' Robertson intimately, having coached the former loose forward at the Crusaders and All Blacks, before helping mentor his coaching career.

Robertson has always been a different character. He's carried that attitude into life as a coach where he embraces the history and legacy of the red and black jersey and uses themes such as Muhammad Ali's rumble in the jungle to inspire. He implores players to think about we not me, and places responsibility on individuals to improve personal skills throughout campaigns.

"He's brought different things in really cleverly through imagery to make sure the guys knew who they were, who had been before them, the legacy they were carrying forward," Smith says. "He's outstanding at that big picture stuff and the boys love him. You talk to them and they love going to work each day so he's created a pretty special environment."

In his 22 Tests, including 15 starts at first-five, Mo'unga is yet to deliver consistent excellence for the All Blacks but, for the Crusaders, he is the fulcrum that binds everything together.

Watching from the outside Smith believes Mo'unga is especially astute at reading and reacting to defensive cues within contests.

"He's magical. It's not flair, it's hard work camouflaged as flair. He seems to pick up that players around him are not being marked and then they seem to go through the hole that was there in the first half and score and take the game out to 13- or 15-point difference, and then it's over.

"He's pretty special I think."

The Crusaders are far from a one-man team, though. All Blacks hooker Codie Taylor is in outrageous form this season. David Havili has been superb, no matter where he plays; Ethan Blackadder epitomises the multi-skilled, heart and work ethic desired from New Zealand forwards and Leicester Fainga'anuku is yet another outside back pushing his claims.

"All those guys you mention have got character. You add that in with talent and a team that really rewards it and works on personal meaning, optimism, gratitude and you're going to get the best out of them.

"Everyone has talent but it's that something extra - Razor's growth mindset - that seems to be contagious. He's always trying things, always coming up with new ideas.

"He says himself he's not a details man, he's an ideas man. You never know what they're going to do next game - they're not predictable. They make mistakes but that's good because it means they're trying hard things. It's pretty special to watch."

So are the Crusaders beatable? Well, yes, because they've lost seven times in Robertson's tenure but it's clearly not easy to achieve.

Smith enjoyed success against Todd Blackadder's Crusaders when he, Davie Rennie, Tom Coventry and Andrew Strawbridge guided the Chiefs to successive titles in 2012-13.

The blueprint now remains similar - frustrate, frustrate, frustrate. Robertson's men are guilty of cynical infringing when the game doesn't flow their way, when they are subjected to intense pressure, and they probably get away with more as all supremely successful sides tend to do.

Challenge their vaunted forward pack, particularly the set-piece, and use a variety of tactical kicking to find the ground and shape their defence, and Smith feels any team is capable of an upset.

"Anything is possible. We came up with a plan then to try frustrate them up front; be tough at the breakdown, not give them any gain line. Any team you can frustrate and stop their offloads at least you give yourself a chance.

"You've got to find something that's going to rattle them, to take them out of their comfort zone."

Therein lies the challenge facing the four trailing Kiwi teams.