15 Feb 2024

Super Rugby Pacific team preview: The Crusaders

2:49 pm on 15 February 2024
Scott Barrett (Captain) of the Crusaders and Crusaders team celebrate with the trophy. Chiefs v Crusaders, Super Rugby Pacific Final at FMG Stadium, Hamilton, New Zealand on Saturday 24 June 2023. Mandatory credit: Lynne Cameron / www.photosport.nz

Photo: www.photosport.nz / Lynne Cameron

Analysis- Super Rugby is back for 2024, with a fresh look and a commitment to running rugby. The first of our New Zealand team previews assesses the defending champion Crusaders.


The biggest question hovering over the Crusaders is just how much the weight of their own history is going to hinder them. The axis of intelligentsia and leadership in the coaching box, backs and forwards is gone: Scott Robertson to the All Blacks having delivered seven titles in seven years, and Richie Mo'unga and Samuel Whitelock to overseas contracts. But write this lot off at your own peril, the rumoured demise of the Crusaders had been predicted to happen annually over the last three seasons.

Rob Penney comes in as coach, which makes things interesting given his less than stellar shift last time he coached a Super Rugby side. However, given just how much change has happened at the other NZ teams as well, it feels like the Crusaders' evolution has been balanced out a bit. Across the park they are supremely well equipped, and welcome back old campaigners Ryan Crotty and Owen Franks.

Crusaders midfielder Ryan Crotty.


The good

Put simply, the culture is what's going to make sure that the Crusaders are at the business end of this Super Rugby season. Their set up is the envy of most pro sports teams in the whole world, rugby or otherwise, so the aforementioned departures haven't taken that key aspect with them. They've added Levi Aumua as their midfield battering ram, where he joins three All Blacks. In the forwards, Whitelock's absence is absorbed by having Scott Barrett partnering some great young talent at lock.

Levi Aumua of Moana Pasifika scores a try during the Highlanders v Moana Pasifika Super Rugby Pacific game at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, New Zealand on Friday 8 March 2022.
Mandatory credit: Derek Morrison / www.photosport.nz

Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2022 / Derek Morrison

The bad

The main worry is a tough start to the season, they play the Chiefs, Hurricanes and Blues in their first five games. They also have the Drua up in Lautoka again, a replay of the Fijians' famous upset last season. Just how quickly Penney can get the team across his vision will be put to the test, they also are missing Codie Taylor for a decent chunk of the season too. Big name signing Leigh Halfpenny looks like he might not even get to play at all after sustaining a pectoral injury in preseason.

Big boots to fill

Rivez Reihana isn't just stepping into the considerable gap left by Mo'unga, but also his heir apparent. Fergus Burke won't be back till mid-April at the earliest, so the nephew of former Waikato and Chiefs legend Bruce Reihana has an incredible opportunity to work behind a quality pack and have the likes of Will Jordan and Sevu Reece outside him.

Rivez Reihana on the attack during the round four Bunnings Warehouse NPC match between Manawatu and Northland.

Rivez Reihana on the attack during the round four Bunnings Warehouse NPC match between Manawatu and Northland. Photo: Hagen Hopkins

What they're saying

"Naturally when you lose guys who have played a lot in the jersey, in some respects legends of the club, there is a void there but the beauty of New Zealand rugby and the Crusaders is guys are quick to put their hand up, take those opportunities and fill those gaps," - Scott Barrett

"This next chapter for the Crusaders is invigorating, full of hope. We've got some fantastic understudies coming through, ready to seize their opportunity and bring their own strengths to the role," - Rob Penney

Fan critique

'Smug' is probably the best way to describe the Crusaders faithful, but annoyingly they've earned that right by having a collection of trophies that requires an entire showroom rather than just a cabinet. However, they have a reputation of being clueless at social media banter, taking everything entirely too literally and having absolutely no sense of humour. Coping with not having a breakdancing coach anymore will be a challenge, given that was usually the most interesting thing they were capable of referencing before going off on the familiar tangent of how the All Blacks should just be the Crusaders in different jerseys.

Fan during the Super Rugby Pacific match, Crusaders Vs Highlanders, at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch.

Fan during the Super Rugby Pacific match, Crusaders Vs Highlanders, at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch. Photo: © Photosport Ltd 2022 www.photosport.nz

Big games

Round one, a repeat of last year's final, will be a marker as to where this new look Crusaders side are at. Round five at Eden Park will be massive too, it's the Blues' heritage day and once again will be a prime opportunity for the Crusaders to crush the Aucklanders' dreams.

Crusaders 2024 squad

Props: Joe Moody, Tamaiti Williams, George Bell, Fletcher Newell, George Bower, Finlay Brewis.

Hookers: Codie Taylor, Brodie McAlister Ioane Moananu.

Locks: Scott Barrett, Quinten Strange, Tahlor Cahill, Zach Gallagher, Jamie Hannah.

Loose forwards: Ethan Blackadder, Tom Christie, Cullen Grace, Dominic Gardiner, Corey Kellow, Christian Lio-Willie.

Halfbacks: Noah Hotham, Mitch Drummond, Willi Heinz.

First five eighths: Fergus Burke, Rivez Reihana.

Midfielders: Ryan Crotty, Levi Aumua, Dallas McLeod, David Havili.

Outside backs: Will Jordan, Sevu Reece, Macca Springer, Leigh Halfpenny, Manasa Mataele, Jone Rova, Chay Fihaki, Heremaia Murray.

Tomorrow we preview last year's beaten finalists, the Chiefs.