Team Preview 2020: The Crusaders

GettyImages 1157302618

Apart from having the mantle of winning the last three competitions, they have suffered a significant loss of personnel, something opponents will be keen to exploit from the outset.

 

Home: Orangetheory Stadium (Christchurch)

Last Season: 1

 

Squad:

 

Forwards

Michael Alaalatoa, Harry Allan, Scott Barrett (c), Ethan Blackadder, George Bower, Tom Christie, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Mitchell Dunshea, Cullen Grace, Billy Harmon, Sione Havili, Oliver Jager, Andrew Makalio, Brodie McAlister, Joe Moody, Luke Romano, Ethan Roots, Tom Sanders, Quinten Strange, Codie Taylor, Isi Tuungafasi.

 

Backs

George Bridge, Fergus Burke, Brett Cameron, Mitchell Drummond, Ere Enari, Braydon Ennor, Leicester Faingaanuku, Inga Finau, Jack Goodhue, Bryn Hall, David Havili, Will Jordan, Manasa Mataele, Dallas McLeod, Richie Mo'unga, Fetuli Paea, Sevu Reece.

 

 

Game breaker: Will Jordan

 

No lack of depth surrounds the back trio for the Crusaders and after some frustrations with injuries in last season's campaign, Jordan came back strong when recovered and can be expected to be a dangerous factor in the side, especially running into the line from fullback. He demonstrated that potency in the Mitre 10 Cup-winning Tasman side in 2019. He will test many opposing defensive screens. The edge should also be increased as a result of competition from David Havili and even George Bridge for the role.

Key signing: Tom Christie

 

While the Crusaders have become used to the absences of flanker Matt Todd in recent seasons, his now permanent departure places heavier demands on the loose forwards. That is not helped by Kieran Read and Jordan Taufua's loss as well and it is a tough call for Christie to come in under such circumstances. However, he has shown maturity in his career to date where he led the New Zealand Under-20 side at the 2018 world championship and he will have a significant role in binding the loose forwards together. A smaller player, it will be a test of his development work and ability to take the knocks associated with his position, that will determine the level of contribution he can make in 2020.

 

Returning veteran: Luke Romano

 

With Sam Whitelock on sabbatical in Japan and unlikely to feature until well into the campaign, and Scott Barrett having taken on the captaincy duties, Romano's experience in what is a young inexperienced pack will be vital. A highly-regarded lineout tactician, he may be nearing the end of his career but he has plenty to offer this Crusaders side. A key lieutenant in this campaign he will also be important in nurturing the emerging locking talent where the likes of Quinten Strange is also coming through at pace.

 

The Scoop

 

Season four at the helm may be the toughest test yet for coach Scott Robertson. He's lost plenty of his core and it will be a measure of the Crusaders' endurance to see if they are able to maintain the high standards which have seen them set the standards in the competition. There's no doubt the talent identification that is a feature of the Crusader legacy has ensured quality players have been signed to the cause but getting them to gel in the customary Crusaders manner will be the challenge. But if there's any side that can be guaranteed to be up for that task it is the three-time defending champions. How he utilises the midfield players Jack Goodhue and Braydon Ennor will be interesting while covering for the loss of Mitch Hunt as back up to Richie Mo'unga at first five-eighths will also be important for the side.