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Initial impressions of the Crusaders for 2018

Adam Julian Roar Guru

By Adam Julian, Adam Julian is a Roar Guru & Live Blogger

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    On paper, the Crusaders boast the best team in the competition – nothing unusual given they have done so for the best part of a decade.

    However, it took the arrival of new coach Scott Robertson to break an eight-year title drought in 2017.

    The stringent approach of Todd Blackadder was banished and replaced with a more audacious and vibrant gameplan. Unhinged, the Crusaders won 17 out of 18 games in an emphatic return to the glory days.

    Unsurprisingly, they have assembled a settled roster, with only seven new players in a squad that includes 14 current All Blacks.

    Ominously, ten of those All Blacks – Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor, Matt Todd, Sam Whitelock, Wyatt Crockett, Joe Moody, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano and Owen Franks – reside in the forwards.

    Franks and Crockett are ageing, but the evergreen Whitelock moved seamlessly into the captaincy role, energised by the additional responsibility. Todd, Romano, Taylor and Perry are fighting to be top dogs in their positions nationally, so have an extra incentive to perform.

    The support crew for the top brass has a solid, if somewhat youthful, appearance to it. Jordan Taufua and Ben Funnell are proven performers, with the latter a reliable hooking option, while height and injury are surely the only things to have prevented the explosive Taufua from graduating to the highest level.

    If the Crusaders were to suffer an injury crisis, a lack of experience could be exposed in the forwards. Front rowers Mitchell Dunshea, Oliver Jager and Andrew Makalio have only played 11 Super Rugby matches between them, as have lock Quinten Strange and loosie Pete Samu. However, their inclusion shows the Crusaders are thinking long-term and they could all flourish in a winning environment.

    They have added three new flankers. Ethan Blackadder is the son of Todd Blackadder and an honest toiler. Billy Harmon is a promising local product and Tom Saunders returns home after two seasons with the Chiefs.

    The backs played with a spark absent for several years in 2017. On form, Richie Mo’unga has surely passed Lima Sopoaga as the countey’s second-best pivot. He was the leading scorer in the NPC, scoring a record 25 points in the final. He also produced an assured display for the Barbarians against the All Blacks, and performed with verve and control in Super Rugby.

    Mo’unga is well supported by serviceable halfbacks Bryn Hall and Mitchell Drummond.

    The midfield stocks are outstanding, with the accomplished Ryan Crotty and Tim Bateman fighting for starts alongside impressive youngster Jack Goodhue.

    The choices among the back three are equally imposing. Seta Tamanivalu, David Havili and Israel Dagg are all All Blacks, but have plenty to prove as they are not necessarily guaranteed first picks.

    israel-dagg-crusaders-super-rugby-union-2017

    AP Photo/Mark Baker

    George Bridge was the team’s leading try scorer last year, nabbed a double for the Barbarians against the All Blacks on Sunday, and led the domestic competition for Canterbury in metres run and defenders beaten. Could Bridge soon push himself into the New Zealand frame?

    Under-20 standouts Braydon Ennor and Will Jordan will inject some excitement in the backline. Ennor scored ten tries in ten matches for Canterbury in the NPC, while Jordan was arguably the best back at the IRB Junior World Championships in Georgia in June, and thrived in his first season for Tasman. Fijian Manasa Mataele is prone to spectacular moments.

    The most intriguing addition is that of one-cap All Black Mike Delany, who returned to play for Bay of Plenty after six seasons abroad.

    The 35-year-old first five-eighth provides a more experienced alternative to young incumbents Mo’unga and Hunt, and is perhaps looking to slot into a coaching role post playing. The Crusaders have typically extracted great things from selections that appear to be missfits – remember Norm Berryman?

    Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, Jed Brown, Leon Fukofuka, Sione Fifita, Digby Ioane, Marty McKenzie and Sean Wainui are the departures from last year and none of those losses will be keenly felt given their minimal contribution made to the 2017 title success.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • November 7th 2017 @ 7:42am
      Fionn said | November 7th 2017 @ 7:42am | ! Report

      Kiwis, can anyone tell me why/how the Crusaders, and Canterbury in the Mitre 10 Cup, are always so good?

      Is the coaching/pathways different there or something?

      • Roar Guru

        November 7th 2017 @ 8:34am
        Wal said | November 7th 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

        Starts at the board, Hamish Riach and his team have been running the first CRFU and now Crusaders for a long time. Before Him, Steve Tew who put the processes in place to build success.
        Its also about sharing information when you consider Tasman (Part of the Crusaders catchment) and Canterbury have played the last 2 finals Canterbury have won 9 out of the last 10 championships. Won their first Women’s championship this year. And Mid Canterbury beat West Coast for the Lochoure Cup (Both in the Crusaders Region) It has been an incredible year for the region.

        Great Podcast with Mils Muliania and Scotty Stevenson talk about just that, along with Corey Flynn’s retirement and his take on it all
        https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-v4yw3-79c15d

        • November 7th 2017 @ 9:28am
          Fionn said | November 7th 2017 @ 9:28am | ! Report

          Cheers, mate, will check it out. Appreciate it.

      • November 7th 2017 @ 2:38pm
        Cuw said | November 7th 2017 @ 2:38pm | ! Report

        First of all a correction .

        ” Front rowers Mitchell Dunshea, Oliver Jager and Andrew Makalio ”

        Dunshea is not a prop – he is the current flavor 5.5 ; a 2nd rower who can play 6. Last season he was out injured and i wonder if he is injured again. ( Taufua is injured for sure with a broken right fore-arm).

        also Heiden Bedwell-Curtis and Jed Brown made more than a minimal contribution , in the absence of both K Read and M Todd due to injuries and then when W Douglas went away after a few matches.

        next the squad:

        the one area i wonder about ( and for a long time ) is the absence of a genuine 8 after Read. last season they got hold of Whetu Douglas – an almost like for like replacement , but he went to Benetton ( i think) mid season.

        the value of him in the absence of Read was illustrated by the fact that the coach tried to get him for a couple of matches ( i think it was Chiefs and Huricanes – cant remember).

        this season too they dont have anyone – with either Taufua or Samu likely stop gap 8s. they are good players but neither is a classy 8. strange considering the coach himself was an 8 loooong years ago i believe.

        the area they are blessed with is backs – simply becoz most of these guys can play in multiple positions , excepting the 2 Fijians who are out-n-out wings.

        Props
        Michael Alaalatoa (Samoa)
        Wyatt Crockett
        Owen Franks
        Oliver Jager (Ireland)
        Joe Moody
        Tim Perry

        Hookers
        Ben Funnell
        Andrew Makalio
        Codie Taylor

        Locks
        Scott Barrett
        Luke Romano
        Quinten Strange
        Sam Whitelock

        Loose forwards
        Ethan Blackadder
        Mitchell Dunshea
        Billy Harmon
        Kieran Read
        Peter Samu (Australia)
        Tom Sanders
        Jordan Taufua
        Matt Todd

        Halfbacks (Scrum-halves)
        Mitchell Drummond
        Bryn Hall
        Jack Stratton

        First Five-Eighths (Fly-halves)
        Mike Delany
        Mitchell Hunt
        Richie Mo’unga

        Midfielders (Centres)
        Tim Bateman
        Ryan Crotty
        Jack Goodhue
        Seta Tamanivalu

        Wings
        George Bridge
        Braydon Ennor
        Jone Macilai-Tori (Fiji)
        Manasa Mataele (Fiji)

        Fullbacks
        Israel Dagg
        David Havili
        Will Jordan

        • Roar Guru

          November 7th 2017 @ 4:06pm
          Wal said | November 7th 2017 @ 4:06pm | ! Report

          Michael Alaalatoa was born in Sydney, not Samoa both he and Pete Samu are NZ eligible next year. MA might get a chance if interested before the RWC.

          • November 7th 2017 @ 4:29pm
            Cuw said | November 7th 2017 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

            yes , but he is listed by heritage – in other words like many islanders he can play for the country of their parents.

            in fact he has played for Samoa U20 in 2011 according to Wiki.

            he can opt for auzzy by birth ; and for NZ by residence 🙂

    • November 7th 2017 @ 11:18am
      Old Bugger said | November 7th 2017 @ 11:18am | ! Report

      As a Chiefs supporter, all I can say is “Bugger….”

      • Roar Guru

        November 7th 2017 @ 12:57pm
        Wal said | November 7th 2017 @ 12:57pm | ! Report

        I don’t know OB, Chiefs look pretty good
        1st 5 is an issue otherwise backline looks awesome, Tight 5 as good as any.
        New guys like Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, Tiaan Falcon, could be very exciting and I have always been a fan of Brad Webber.

      • November 7th 2017 @ 2:49pm
        Cuw said | November 7th 2017 @ 2:49pm | ! Report

        u can easily put out an internationally capped XV. what more do u want 😛

        the 2 guys i wanna see are Solomon Alaimalo and Levi Aumua.

        SA is an almost replica of Folau and mostly plays like him. Definitely quicker than Folau , but not as aerially gifted tho defensively much better to play at 15 or 14.

        LA is a center from League in his first year. according to Miter 10 commentary he is 116kg !!! certainly made an impression in his first match – first by dragging 3 guys for 10 meters to score a try and then dumping someone on his head and getting a red card.

        dont mistake him for another Laumape , cos Levi can run , pass , tackle and even hit rucks.

        as for Falcon – he rarely played at 10 in Miter 10 but was the standout 10 in U20 world cup. who is on the bench ? coz MM is a fantastic goal kicker and like his bro can play 15. in fact all3 fly halves can play full back 🙂

      • Roar Guru

        November 7th 2017 @ 4:28pm
        Machooka said | November 7th 2017 @ 4:28pm | ! Report

        As a Tahs’ supporter, all I can say is “I’m buggered… again!”

    • November 7th 2017 @ 12:30pm
      Stu B said | November 7th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

      Hi Wal, just proves how the quality of the front office is where it all begins. Someone commented Canterbury have selectors not international talent scouts, they must be doing something great we cannot even guess at.

      • November 7th 2017 @ 3:36pm
        Jerry said | November 7th 2017 @ 3:36pm | ! Report

        Dunno what that even means, they do plenty of scouting for talent within NZ (eg the Whitelocks, Israel Dagg, Kieran Read) and overseas (Brad Thorn, Mike Alalaatoa, Digby Ioane, Marika Vunibaka).

        • November 7th 2017 @ 4:50pm
          Cuw said | November 7th 2017 @ 4:50pm | ! Report

          not forgetting the many Aucklanders like Jack Goodhue , Braydon Ennor , Bryn Hall , Jordan taufua , Andrew Makalio , Jimmy Toupo , SBW….

          Fijians Jjone Macilai , Manasa Mataele , Nemani Nandolo , Ben Volavola

          Auzzy Pete Samu

          Irish Ollie Jager

          English Nathan Earle

    • November 7th 2017 @ 7:39pm
      KiwiHaydn said | November 7th 2017 @ 7:39pm | ! Report

      Crusaders and Canes squads are the clear standouts from the NZ teams, followed by the Highlanders, then the Chiefs/Blues. Will be interesting to see how the new format and draw plays out in 2018, and whether they finish in that order.

      • November 7th 2017 @ 8:06pm
        Cuw said | November 7th 2017 @ 8:06pm | ! Report

        going by arrivals and departures that may be more or less right.

        feel sorry for Blues whose plans have been blown up with a long-ternm injury to Otere Black.

        if Chiefs and Blues struggle – i think main reason will be the new 10 starting out.

        Blues have had a problem there for a few years but Chiefs lost a very good playmaker.

        but then Gatland has been good in Miter 10. maybe he is “the one” for Blues.

        the other 3 teams have proven 10s , but am not sure about the Highlanders’ backups.

        i think man-for man the Hurricanes have more talent across the board.

        • November 7th 2017 @ 9:41pm
          KiwiHaydn said | November 7th 2017 @ 9:41pm | ! Report

          I feel sorry for the Blues too, kind of. So much talent in their region but they’ve struggled for years to unlock their potential, or find a quality 10. Just can’t see them improving until they do.

          Will be interesting to see how DMac goes at 10 for the Chiefs. They just don’t seem to have the same depth or threats as the top 3 NZ teams.

          • November 8th 2017 @ 1:00pm
            Rugby Tragic said | November 8th 2017 @ 1:00pm | ! Report

            I feel sorry for the Blues too ….. 🙂

        • November 8th 2017 @ 1:03pm
          Rugby Tragic said | November 8th 2017 @ 1:03pm | ! Report

          Cuw Stephen Perofeta will step up ….

          Blues biggest problem is their pack and on field leadership. Crusaders have neither of these problems.

          • November 8th 2017 @ 6:20pm
            Cuw said | November 8th 2017 @ 6:20pm | ! Report

            sorry im still not sure of him – but then i have seen very little of him .

            so am sure u know better 🙂

            i note that Kaino is down again with a knee injury. hindsight is 20:20 but makes me wonder if he made the right call to stay , rather than go to Europe.

            i also wonder if the wrong guy went to europe – Victor Vito , who was voted Top 14 player last season and has begun in the same vein this season.

            the way things are panning out Kaino may just have to call it a day and not get a good payday ….

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