With a World Cup year in the rearview mirror, plenty of All Blacks moving on and a high-profile player move, the New Zealand conference will again make for compelling viewing this Super Rugby season.
The Crusaders could be without established All Blacks Ryan Crotty and Scott Barrett for the Super Rugby final after both damaged a hand in their exciting semi-final defeat of the Hurricanes.
Inside centre Crotty (thumb) and lock Barrett (finger) were to learn the extent of their injuries when x-ray results return on Monday, after they failed to finish the 30-26 win in Christchurch.
Broken bones would rule them out of Saturday’s home decider against the Jaguares and could impact on their availability for the All Blacks, who begin their pre-World Cup program in July.
Crusaders coach Scott Robertson will be sweating on the outcome of the x-rays, acknowledging his team needs as much quality on the park as possible against a Jaguares side he rates as a genuine threat to deny the Crusaders a third successive title.
“They’re important players for us, you know,” Robertson said.
“A hundred-odd games for Crots and Scooter Barrett’s one of the best locks in the world, so we’ll see.”
Injury could prematurely end Crotty’s Crusaders career as he is leaving for Japan next season.
Robertson has two other All Blacks nursing shoulder injuries but he expects five-eighth Richie Mo’unga and prop Joe Moody to recover.
Mo’unga’s damage was suffered in a late hit from Hurricanes captain Dane Coles which Robertson believed warranted further action from match officials.
Classy pivot Mo’unga played on and was arguably the game’s most important player, landing all six shots at goal, scoring one try and setting up another in a 20-point performance which shaded incumbent All Blacks five-eighth Beauden Barrett.
“You’ve got to give it to Richie, he’s pretty clutch, kicking those threes, kicks from the sideline,” Robertson said.
“It kept us out ahead, they were always chasing and defence at the end was remarkable.”
Robertson revealed he had expected the Jaguares to beat the mis-firing Brumbies in their semi-final, which proved prophetic as the Argentines powered to a 39-7 triumph in Buenos Aires.
“We did a bit of homework, We were expecting to play them so we’re a few days ahead on it,” he said.
“Huge respect to the Jaguares, the way they’ve played all season.
“They’ve travelled well and they’re going to bring a band of supporters who love to party.
“We’ve still got to make sure we get our week right.”