Monday, February 20, 2012

Super Rugby preview: Crusaders,25883,3551_7531678,00.html 19th February 2012 

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. Next up, the Crusaders!
After stumbling at the final hurdle in Brisbane last year, Super Rugby's most successful team will seek their eighth title in 2012.
Last year: The epic road trip that was the Crusaders' 2011 season caught the imagination of rugby fans around the world after Christchurch's tragic earthquake deprived Todd Blackadder's troops of a permanent home ground. They were also left to make do without talismanic skipper Richie McCaw for much of the season due to scheduled rest and injury. The Crusaders nevertheless topped the New Zealand conference and finished third in the overall standings. A crowd-pleasing win over the Sharks at Twickenham and dominant victory over the Stormers in the semi-finals were highlights in a remarkable season that saw them lose just four games. A shock defeat to the Cheetahs proved costly in the final equation as it resulted in more travelling - The long haul to Cape Town for their semi-final meant that the tanks were running on empty when it came time to face the Reds in what proved to a thrilling but ultimately unsuccessful final.
This year: Once again the Crusaders arrive at the start line considered as title contenders. With quality in every position, massive squad depth and a pedigree second to none, it's hardly surprising they are the bookies' favourites to be crowned champions, again. But they will start the season without McCaw, who will be missing until at least April, and will have to play their first 'home' match of the season in Napier, as their new stadium at Rugby League Park will only be ready by Round Five when they host the Cheetahs. The Crusaders squad is extremely strong but there are some concerns of the lack of backup for Dan Carter, who is only expected back in Round Three. Carter missed five straight games last year but the departure of Matt Berquist to Leinster means there is not much experience on offer at pivot when DC is absent. Will Ryan Crotty be able to fill the void left by Sonny Bill Williams? The draw is a relatively good one with home clashes against both the Stormers and Reds very welcome news for the Christchurch faithful.
Key players: The only member of the Crusaders' starting pack not to be capped by the All Blacks (yet), 23-year-old Matt Todd has the unenviable task of filling in for King Richie. Todd was brilliant last year, and fans will be hoping for a repeat. Tom Donnelly also has big shoes to fill but is a solid replacement for departed enforcer Brad Thorn. There will be plenty of eyes on 21-year-old Tyler Bleyendaal, who will be Dan Carter's understudy. Bleyendaal captained New Zealand's U20 side to a world title in Argentina two years ago, but has yet to cut his teeth at Super Rugby level. The pressure is on. Crusaders rugby is all about scoring tries, so expect full-back Israel Dagg to be in the headlines...a lot.
Prospects: The Crusaders have failed to make the semi-finals just once since their first title back in 1998. It's incredibly hard to argue with that kind of record but the new conference system has complicated matters somewhat and with the Blues set to give them a real battle for top spot New Zealand, nothing is guaranteed. A place in the play-offs is expected but a place in the final might be a bridge too far if they must travel for play-offs or semi-finals.

Fri Feb 24: v Blues, away
Sat Mar 3: v Highlanders, away
Fri Mar 9: v Chiefs, home
Round 4: Bye
Sat Mar 24: v Cheetahs, home
Sat Mar 31: v Lions, away
Sat Apr 7: v Bulls, away
Sat Apr 14: v Stormers, home
Sat Apr 21: v Hurricanes, away
Sun Apr 29: v Waratahs, away
Sun May 06: v Reds, home
Sat May 12: v Rebels, away
Sat May 19: v Blues, home
Round 14: Bye
Fri Jun 1: v Highlanders
Sat Jun 30: v Hurricanes
Fri Jul 6: v Chiefs, away
Sat Jul 14: v Force, home

No comments: