Formed in 1996 to represent the upper South Island of New Zealand in the Super 12, the Crusaders struggled in their first season and finished last. Their performance improved in 1997 and the team finished sixth. The team went on to win all three titles from 1998 to 2000 despite each final being played away from home. They again won the competition in 2002 after going through the season unbeaten. In the following two seasons, they again reached the final, although they were beaten on both occasions. 2005 was the last season of the Super 12 before its expansion. After finishing top of the table in that season, the Crusaders went on to host the final in which they defeated the Waratahs.
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