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Super Rugby Preview
Christchurch accustomed to Crusaders triumphs
Greg Growden and Brittany Mitchell
February 14, 2014
The Crusaders are still chasing their eighth Super Rugby title ©

Crusaders' Super Rugby 2014 Squad

  • Dominic Bird, Tyler Bleyendaal, Daniel Carter, Wyatt Crockett, Ryan Crotty, Israel Dagg, Mitchell Drummond, Andy Ellis, Corey Flynn, Owen Franks, Ben Funnell, Zac Guildford, Willi Heinz, Nepo Laulala, Rey Lee-Lo, Richie McCaw, Johnny McNicholl, Joe Moody, Nemani Nadolo, Tim Perry, Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Colin Slade, Jordan Taufua, Codie Taylor, Tom Taylor, Matt Todd, Jimmy Tupou, Adam Whitelock, George Whitelock, Luke Whitelock, Sam Whitelock
  • Crusaders' Super Rugby 204 fixtures

Always a formidable side, the Crusaders will be real contenders for the championship title. The seven-time champions have included five new members to their squad, with 27 players returning from last year's semi-final side to form a hugely experienced line-up. Greg Growden asks if they have any hope without Daniel Carter on sabbatical but says they know how to adapt having made the semi-finals without having Richie McCaw for most of last year's tournament.

Last Season: Semi-finals, second in New Zealand Conference; the Crusaders were the second-leading try-scorers behind the Chiefs, and only the Stormers, Brumbies, Queensland Reds and Sharks held a better defensive record. But the side lacked the finesse of previous seasons and fell to the Chiefs again in the semi-finals.

Jeff Wilson said of the Crusaders in 2013: "The Crusaders will look back at 2013 as a missed opportunity, but a side that transitioned a new coaching team into 2013 will be better equipped off the field for 2014. In 2013, there were a number of opportunities early in the season that passed them by but they demonstrated in typical Crusaders' style how dangerous they can be at the business end of the season." Read more ...

Russell Barwick and Greg Growden look at the New Zealand Super Rugby conference

Key Man: Kieran Read has been an integral part of the side for several years, and he stepped up another level with a great season for both the Crusaders and the All Blacks to claim IRB World Player of the Year and New Zealand Rugby Player of the Year awards. He will be a key player for the side alongside the returning Richie McCaw.

Key Stat: Crusaders forwards scored 20 of the team's 29 tries in 2013, more than any other pack in the competition, with back-rowers George Whitelock, Matt Todd and Read crossing for a dozen.

Rising Star: Nemani Nadolo returns to Super Rugby after playing in France, England and Japan for several years. Signed by New South Wales Waratahs in 2009, he never played a match and moved to France to play with Bourgoin. Easily mistaken as a front rower, this 130kg, 1.95m Fijian has pace to burn as a winger and fans may be moved to recall the heroics of former franchise star Marika Vunibaka.

Super Rugby 2014: Team-by-team

© SANZAR (Image Supplied)

Season Preview: The Crusaders have lost their playmaker and most prolific points scorer, Dan Carter, to a sabbatical, and they will find it difficult to replace the star player; they seem likely to rely on Colin Slade, returning from the Highlanders, to lead the backline, although Tyler Bleyendaal and Tom Taylor each represent options. The backline may struggle to find the form of previous seasons, but they are still considered championship contenders with Richie McCaw returning for the full season alongside Read.

Greg Growden's Verdict: Are the Crusaders any hope without Daniel Carter for most of the season? Carter is on a six-month break, coinciding with ankle surgery, but they they do know how to adapt having made the semi-finals without having Richie McCaw for most of last year's tournament. So It should be more of the same from the Crusaders this year as their squad is vast and boasting plenty of depth. The most interest will revolve around Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, and whether he can make an impact, while the Crusaders continue to boast crucial locks, with the latest to warrant Test attention being Dominic Bird. He and Sam Whitelock are a formidable pairing. What must be most disconcerting is the fact they have made the finals cut the past five years without being able to go on and secure a title. That has prompted mutterings in Christchurch, a city accustomed to rugby title triumphs.

Tip: Tip: Second in New Zealand Conference Finish: Second

The top ESPNfootytips Super Rugby tipster at the end of the home and away season wins $A2000, with the runner-up claiming $A1000. We also have a pair of Gold Class movie tickets for each weekly winner.

Best of all you and a mate could be heading off to Game II of the Bledisloe Cup series between the Wallabies and the All Blacks in Auckland. The prize includes flight, accommodation, transfers and match tickets. Simply enter your tips WEEKLY to make another entry in the competition.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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