The Crusaders are always favourites to go on and take the Super Rugby title, especially at this time of the season, when all the speculation starts. A couple of seasons now without the trophy, one has to think that they will try a bit harder this season.
Losing in the final against the Reds must have really been annoying, especially after coming so far after their home ground advantage was taken away from them by an earthquake this time last year. Still pretty much without a home ground, the Crusaders will be going out there and doing it for their fans.
The squad looks very similar to the one we saw last year, with only Money Bill Williams and Brad Thorn missing. The management was quite sharp though, they have recruited Tom Donnelly as a straight replacement. As for Williams, they have a good replacement in Ryan Crotty.
Their two biggest stars will miss the opening rounds of the competition, but again this will play to their advantage as Carter and McCaw would not have to be rested come the latter half of the season. In Matt Todd they have a fantastic talent that will be eagerly awaiting his chance to shine.
The Crusaders squad is balanced as always, with an immense front row with the Franks brothers, Corey Flynn and Wyatt Crockett adding their weight, with a loose trio of Todd, Whitelock and Read to start off the season with.
In the backline they have Andy Ellis running the show from scrumhalf and an amazing back three of Zac Guildford, Sean Maitland and Israel Dagg. Look out for Tyler Bleyendaal to make an impact in the absence of Dan Carter.
All in all, I think it is pretty much a guaranteed fact that the Crusaders will end the season as number one in the New Zealand conference, with only really the Blues able to stop their dominance.
2012 Crusaders Super Rugby Squad