There is no doubt that the Crusaders are the benchmark of Super Rugby. The only question this year is: ‘How will they cope without long-time coach Robbie Deans and ace playmaker Dan Carter?’
Other than the departure of those two the personnel changes are no more significant than they were last year when a host of players departed – mostly to Europe.
The systems Deans had in place ensured the Crusaders coped easily with the loss of key personnel.
In Todd Blackadder, the new coach, they have a replacement that is very familiar with the Deans way of doing things and while he will no doubt make some changes, he will not mess too much with the foundations laid by his predecessor.
And in Richie McCaw he has exactly the type of captain that will guide the ship towards another title.
They remain the team to beat. It is very hard to argue with seven titles in 13 years.
Strengths: In the past it was their great structures and a game plan that ensures the opposition always paid for mistakes. Expect much the same from them. They have an inspirational captain in Richie McCaw and a readymade replacement in Stephen Brett – with Dan Carter now at Perpignan in France.
Weakness: There are not many real weaknesses in the Crusaders game, they are solid up front, have one of the best loose forwards in the world and a stellar backline. The departure of Robbie Deans (to Australia) and Dan Carter (to France) are the only lingering question marks.
Noteworthy signings: Ryan Crotty (newcomer from Canterbury), Owen Franks (newcomer from Canterbury), Jason MacDonald (from the Highlanders), Bronson Murray (from the Blues), Jared Payne (from Northland), Jonathan Poff (newcomer from Tasman), Isaac Ross (from Highlanders), Colin Slade (newcomer from Canterbury), Thomas Waldrom (from Hurricanes), Adam Whitelock (newcomer from Canterbury).
Noteworthy losses: Daniel Carter (to Perpignan), Scott Hamilton (Leicester Tigers), Campbell Johnstone (Biarritz), Ti’i Paulo (injured), Caleb Ralph (Fukuoka Sanix Blues, Japan), Greg Somerville (Gloucester ), Reuben Thorne (Yamaha Jubilo, Japan), Mose Tuiali’i (Yamaha, Japan), Ali Williams (Blues).
Coach: Todd Blackadder. Appointed as Robbie Deans’ successor, he comes with deep roots in the Crusaders culture. He cut his coaching teeth as the first assistant forwards coach of Scotland’s first foreign head coach Matt Williams, and became the forwards coach of the Edinburgh Gunners under Frank Hadden. He then served as the Director of Rugby for the Tasman Rugby Union in the National Provincial Championship. He became then part of the Crusaders coaching setup.
Captain: Richie McCaw is one of the great players of modern rugby, arguably the best flank in the world. He is brave and a relentless fetcher, and a committed team man who will lead from the front. He is tough, skilful and calmest when the pressure is on, an ideal leader. He is, as he deserves to be, a hero and an inspiration to many around the world.
Player(s) to watch: The departure of Dan Carter to France means the spotlight will be on the No.10 channel – where Stephen Brett and Colin Slade are the designated flyhalves. Brett has a well-established Super 14 track record, but Slade is the newcomers – having made his debut for Canterbury at the start of the 2008 Air New Zealand Cup season and made a huge impression, while Carter was unavailable and Brett injured.
2008 Position: Champions
Best finish: Winners – 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008
Worst finish: 12th in Super 12 in 1996
Home Venue: Jade Stadium, Christchurch (capacity 36,500)
2009 Prediction: Only a fool would bet against the Crusaders again making the play-offs. There may be some early hiccups and we don’t expect them to go through the season unbeaten, but they will be there come play-off time. We expect them to reach the Final again.
Crusaders squad: Richie McCaw (captain), Tim Bateman, Stephen Brett, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Andrew Ellis, Ross Filipo, Corey Flynn, Kahn Fotuali’i, Ben Franks, Owen Franks, Casey Laulala, Jason MacDonald, Leon MacDonald, Sean Maitland, Nasi Manu, Bronson Murray, Michael Paterson, Jared Payne, Jonathan Poff, Kade Poki, Kieran Read, Isaac Ross, Colin Slade, Brad Thorn, Thomas Waldrom, Adam Whitelock, George Whitelock.
Saturday, February 14: v Chiefs, home
Saturday, February 21: v Brumbies, away
Friday, February 27: v Hurricanes, home
Saturday, March 7: v Highlanders, away
Saturday, March 14: v Western Force, home
Saturday, March 21: v Waratahs, away
Saturday, March 28: v Stormers, home
Friday, April 3: v Bulls, home
Saturday, April 18: v Sharks, away
Saturday, April 25: v Cheetahs, away
Friday, May 1: v Lions, away
Friday, May 8: v Reds, home
Saturday, May 16: v Blues, away
Courtesy of Rugby 365Tweet