The Crusaders last won the Super Rugby title back in 2008, which is something new head coach Scott Robertson and captain Sam Whitelock are determined to put right in this campaign.
COMPETITION: SEVENTH PLACE
NZ CONFERENCE: FOURTH PLACE
It was a disappointing campaign for the Crusaders. They finished seventh overall and fourth in the New Zealand conference, after making their traditional slow start before finishing strongly. In the quarter-finals they drew a trip to South Africa to play the Lions, which proved one hurdle too many.
LUCK OF THE DRAW:
The Crusaders have the Brumbies, Blues and Force at home in their opening six games before their first bye. The British and Irish Lions match comes a week before their final-round match-up away to the champion Hurricanes, which may well decide their finals position.
New head coach Scott Robertson takes over from Todd Blackadder after a successful reign with Canterbury and New Zealand Under-20 teams.
Robertson is a popular character with a simple coaching philosophy. “My job is to make people better. That can be on and off the field. I have to create an environment that people can be themselves and get expertise around me to help me do that.”
“I understand the expectation that comes along with the Crusaders role as a former player and now as a coach. It is good because we have been successful before with a rich history to add to who we are.”
The Crusaders always have one of the strongest squads on paper and this year is no exception. Robertson says they have real depth, especially in the backs, with the recruitment of Bryn Hall, Tim Bateman, Seta Tamanivalu and Digby Ioane to join Ryan Crotty and Israel Dagg.
“That is an area we have worked hard to create a little bit of competition so we can get the best out of players. You need depth in this competition as it is a long competition with a lot of travel. We have the majority of an All Black forward pack with a lot of experience and some quality leaders.”
Robertson has a proven record of bringing through young players at New Zealand Under-20 and Mitre 10 Cup levels. Many of the newer players in the Crusaders squad have come through that pathway
“Young George Bridge is a winger who has come through from the Canterbury set-up. It is his first year in the Super Rugby set-up. He is explosive with a talented left foot. Jack Goodhue has an opportunity to add to last year amongst some quality young backs. Digby Ioane is an excitement machine and will be a crowd favourite I am sure.
“Tim Bateman returning to the fold [from Japan] is going to bring a lot of experience into our backline and give us that depth, which is the strongest we have had for a few years. His knowledge and understanding of the game and his ability to play multiple positions is critical for us. “We have a lot of hungry players who want to make their own history in their time that they have the jersey on.”
Forwards: Oliver Jager, Andrew Makalio, Quinten Strange, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis,Jed Brown.
Backs: Bryn Hall, Tim Bateman,Seta Tamanivalu, George Bridge, Digby Ioane,Manasa Mataele.
Forwards: Alex Hodgman,Ged Robinson, Jimmy Tupou, Tim Boys,Reed Prinsep.
Backs: Andy Ellis, Ben Volavola,Kieron Fonotia, Robbie Fruean, Johnny McNicholl,Nemani Nadolo.
The Crusaders are due. There is no doubt about that and they should make the semi-finals. Look for a more open style under coach Robertson.
Forwards: Michael Alaalatoa, Wyatt Crockett,Oliver Jager, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Owen Franks,Ben Funnell, Andrew Makalio, Codie Taylor,Scott Barrett, Luke Romano, Quinten Strange,Sam Whitelock, Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jed Brown,Mitchell Dunshea, Kieran Read, Pete Samu,Jordan Taufua, Matt Todd.
Backs: Mitchell Drummond, Leon Fukofuka,Bryn Hall, Tim Bateman, Marty McKenzie,Richie Mo’unga, Ryan Crotty, Jack Goodhue,David Havili, Seta Tamanivalu, Sean Wainui,George Bridge, Israel Dagg, Sione Fifita, Mitchell Hunt,Digby Ioane, Jone Macilai, Manasa Mataele.