10 Feb 2015

Crusaders want strong start to season

12:50 pm on 10 February 2015

The Crusaders are hoping to break their unwanted tradition of starting their Super Rugby campaign slowly when they host the Melbourne Rebels in the competition's opener in Christchurch on Friday night.

Dan Carter of the Crusaders on the burst in the Super Rugby Semi Final match, Crusaders v Sharks, Christchurch, July 2014.

Dan Carter of the Crusaders on the burst in the Super Rugby Semi Final match, Crusaders v Sharks, Christchurch, July 2014. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The All Blacks' World Cup defence looms large over a Super Rugby season which will serve as a swansong for a generation of players hoping to defend the Webb Ellis trophy in England.

All five New Zealand franchises have been asked to juggle their resources so the All Blacks are not overworked or injured, and each international will miss at least two rounds.

Dan Carter has already confirmed this year will be his last in New Zealand, while Richie McCaw looks likely to retire after the World Cup, increasing the pressure on coach Todd Blackadder to bring the Crusaders their eighth title.

Notorious for starting slowly, the Crusaders assistant coach Dave Hewett said they were desperate to break that tradition when they host the tournament opener in Christchurch on Friday night.

"It's not something we like and we're not sure why it happens but it happens, and it's not good enough that it happens," he said.

"It's just one of those things that for some reason we take our time to start but we certainly want to nip that in the bud and no time like the present to make a change."

The Crusaders came within a minute of winning their first title since 2008 with the one point loss to the Waratahs in last year's final.

The return of code-hopping centre Sonny Bill Williams to the Waikato Chiefs is only one part of a good off-season of recruitment for the 2012 and 2013 champions.

Barnstorming centre Seta Tamanivalu and former All Blacks winger Hosea Gear will add some line-breaking bulk to a small back division and they should improve on their fifth-placed finish last year.

With the return of Nonu to the Hurricanes, the Wellington based side have arguably the best backline in New Zealand and should be in playoff contention under new mentor Chris Boyd, in his first year as a Super Rugby head coach.

The Blues coach Kirwan is also under pressure to get results from his talent-laden squad, while the Highlanders will be hard-pushed to repeat last year's sixth-placed finish.

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