Tuesday, December 04, 2007

'Super' Seven Newcomers Signed Up for 13th Crusade


October 30, 2007

There are seven newcomers in the Crusaders squad that has been named today to prepare for the 2008 Rebel Sport Super 14.

The Tasman trio: halfback Kahn Fotuali’i, winger Kade Poki and lock Ali Williams have been joined by Canterbury winger Sean Maitland, loose forwards Tavake (more regularly known as Nasi) Manu and George Whitelock, and five-eighths Hamish Gard, among the playing cast for the 13th Crusade.

Poki, Maitland and Manu, who all made their Air New Zealand Cup debuts earlier this year, were members of the victorious New Zealand side at the last world Under-19 championships in the United Arab Emirates in March.

The 19-year-old Poki is the second member of his family to have made the Crusaders. His step brother Hayden Pedersen, a winger from Marlborough, made one appearance as a replacement against the Stormers at Cape Town in 2003 before going on to appear for the Highlanders, Otago and New Zealand Maori later in his career.

Fotuali’i was a member of the Crusaders wider training group earlier in the year, and sat on the reserves bench for the match against the Chiefs in Christchurch, but was not pressed into the action.

Whitelock, who featured in 10 matches for Otago this year, transferred to Canterbury in the off-season to join his younger brothers, Adam and Sam, who are both in the Canterbury development programme. The oldest of the Whitelock boys, George captained the New Zealand Under-21 side against Canada in 2007 after previously leading the New Zealand Under-19 side in 2005.

Williams is new to the Crusaders, but has appeared in 52 Super rugby matches for the Blues since his debut in 2002.

He recently linked with Tasman as has the 2003 All Black Brad Thorn, who returns to the Crusaders after making the most recent of his 37 previous Super rugby appearances in 2004.

A dual rugby and rugby league international, Thorn played his maiden Super 14 in 2001.

Other features of the squad include a fifth consecutive Crusade for the Wellington-based All Black lock Ross Filipo, who debuted for the squad in 2004, as well as a 12th season for his international colleague Reuben Thorne.

The former All Black and Crusaders skipper is one of three squad members who debuted during the second Super 12 in 1997 – with threequarter Caleb Ralph and fullback Leon MacDonald being the others.

To put their longevity in perspective, the squad’s youngest member – Poki – was just nine years old when his Tasman team-mate Ralph played his first match at this level.

Thorne, with 121 matches currently to his name, is the most capped Crusader of all-time. Ralph, Somerville and MacDonald have also exceeded a century of competition matches, with MacDonald starting the 13th Crusade on 99 appearances for the franchise.

While the squad has a core of experience along with a strong blend of youth, and includes seven members of the 2007 All Black World Cup squad – who will be with the team from the outset this time – coach Robbie Deans acknowledges that the competition ahead will be typical of the annual challenge Super rugby provides.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” Super rugby’s longest serving coach, who raised his 100th game in the competition earlier this year, says.

“While we are obviously going to be able to have our group together from the start as we get down to work next year, the key will be bringing everyone together and ensuring we consider and cater for what is required to be competitive first and then raise those standards.”

The bulk of the Crusaders squad will assemble for the strength and conditioning phase of the preparation in late November, although the Rugby World Cup participants are not due to return until the start of the new Year.

Although the disappointment of the World Cup will provide the background to the country’s preparations for the next Super 14, Deans says that tournament will have no motivational relevance for the Crusaders.

“Individually some of the players may find additional motivation in that, it is not something we will focus on at all as a team,” Deans says.

For all that, Deans acknowledges that the South African threat, which proved so potent earlier this year, has only been given added momentum ahead of the third Super 14 by the result from France.

“It [the World Cup outcome] has obviously given the South Africans a huge boost. We saw in this competition earlier in the year how much value a bit of an injection of belief can add, both in terms of how the South African teams travelled overseas, and also in how they performed at the business end of the competition,” Deans says.

With Filipo a Crusader by choice after four years of service, the squad is free of draft players. The roster has been selected from entirely within the catchment area, with four players from this year’s side which reached the semi-finals – prop Ben May, fullback Paul Williams, locks Isaac Ross and Kevin O’Neill – having been secured by other franchises.

Canterbury flanker Hayden Hopgood and former Tasman winger Lucky Mulipola are other players who will be with other franchises next year that have previous experience within the Crusaders set up.

Loose forward Peter Nixon, who was with the side in 2007, was not considered due to injury.

The Crusaders squad for the 2008 Rebel Sport Super 14 is: Richard McCaw (Canterbury), Tim Bateman (Canterbury), Stephen Brett (Canterbury), Daniel Carter (Canterbury), Wyatt Crockett (Canterbury), Andrew Ellis (Canterbury), Ross Filipo (Wellington), Corey Flynn (Canterbury), * Kahn Fotuali’i (Tasman), Ben Franks (Canterbury), * Hamish Gard (Canterbury), Scott Hamilton (Canterbury), Campbell Johnstone (Canterbury), Casey Laulala (Canterbury), Leon MacDonald (Canterbury), * Sean Maitland (Canterbury), * Tavake (Nasi) Manu (Canterbury), Ti’i Paulo (Canterbury), Michael Paterson (Canterbury), * Kade Poki (Tasman), Caleb Ralph (Tasman), Kieran Read (Canterbury), Greg Somerville (Canterbury), Brad Thorn (Tasman), Reuben Thorne (Canterbury), Mose Tuiali’i (Canterbury), * George Whitelock (Canterbury), * Ali Williams (Tasman)

Coaches: Robbie Deans, Mark Hammett

Manager: Tony Thorpe

* denotes new Crusader

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