Team Preview: Crusaders

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Tuesday, February 13, 2018    Getty Images

Home: AMI Stadium
Last Season: Champions

Michael Ala'alatoa, Scott Barrett, Tim Bateman, Ethan Blackadder, George Bridge, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Mike Delany, Mitchell Drummond, Mitchell Dunshea, Braydon Ennor, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Jack Goodhue, Bryn Hall, Billy Harmon, David Havili, Mitchell Hunt, Oliver Jager, Will Jordan, Jone Macilai, Andrew Makalio, Manasa Mataele, Joe Moody, Richie Mo'unga, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Pete Samu, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Jack Stratton, Seta Tamanivalu, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Sam Whitelock (captain).


Game breaker:
Last season saw David Havili well and truly launch his rugby career with a consistent series of games for the Crusaders which resulted in his elevation to Test rugby. That transition was completed with a degree of seamlessness which offers the hope that he will advance his game further by building on that experience. Whether at fullback or at centre, Havili has an innate attacking sense and an eye for space that is invaluable and he should thrive in 2018.

Key signing:
One area where the Crusaders don't lack for players is lock and Scott Barrett is well established in the side. However, now that he has two full seasons behind him, he is set for the next stage of his career where he aims for a degree of authority that the most experienced locks command, none more than his captain Sam Whitelock. Working with him, Luke Romano and the promising Quinten Strange from Tasman, will be vital to the on-going growth in the middle of the scrum for the Crusaders and set Barrett up for the next phase of development.

Returning veteran:
Hindered by an Achilles tendon injury for much of his season last year Owen Franks opted for surgical repair and missed the last half of 2017. Given his commitment to the cause, both for the Crusaders and the All Blacks, through the years the enforced rest may have come at a useful time for the tighthead prop. A rejuvenated Franks should be an impressive sight, especially knowing that in his absence some younger players have advanced their own games. One of the best players in his position in the world, Franks could be set for one of his most successful seasons yet.

The Scoop:
Playing with the authority of defending champions, the Crusaders will once again be a force in Super Rugby. They will have some challenges, opposing coaches will be a little more aware of Scott Robertson's style in his second year in the role. But dealing with the unexpected has not been a problem for him before so his response will be intriguing. The involvement of Irish coach Ronan O'Gara will be another area of interest. However, it is the continuing abilities on show from a highly talented group of players that will be most watched as the Crusaders embark on their latest sortie. It promises to be another thrilling ride.